Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell
The late blues harmonica master and his finest pupil; an album of simply amazing harp playing. Veteran Eddie Taylor on guitar. "Funky, lowdown, sensitive and tasteful, and how the blues should be"--DOWN BEAT
BIG WALTER HORTON, Harmonica and Vocals
CAREY BELL, Second Harmonica (Bass on Have a Good Time, Christine, and Under The Sun )
EDDIE TAYLOR, Guitar
JOE HARPER, Bass
FRANK SWAN, Drums
Produced by Carey Bell and Bruce Iglauer
Recorded at Sound Studios, Chicago, IL
Engineered and mixed by Stu Black
Cover design and photos by Peter Amft
Special thanks to Bob Koester of Delmark Records
On the harmonica duets, Big Walter is heard on the left channel and Carey Bell on the right channel.
There have been only four great creative geniuses of modern blues harmonica: John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Little Walter, Rice "Sonny Boy II" Miller and Big Walter Horton. Big Walter is the only one still living, and, ironically, he remains in relative obscurity in Chicago's South Side ghetto. The other three blues harp geniuses were recognized, honored and extensively recorded with their own bands. Perhaps it's that this shy, withdrawn man has never been aggressive enough to hustle a contract with a major record label. Or perhaps it's just that his harmonica is so subtle, so delicate, that it requires hard, concentrated listening to appreciate. But this is only Big Walter's second album as a leader. And it's the first on which he was given complete choice of sidemen and songs.
Walter Horton has been playing blues harp for over forty years. He was born in Mississippi in 1918 but moved to Memphis while still a child. As a teenager he played with the Memphis lug Band, travelled with Big Joe Williams and played regularly in Handy Park with the musicians who are still his best friends today -- Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones and Eddie Taylor. Eddie remembers playing with Walter at parties for "big shots, like Crump, the mayor of Memphis." And Johnny Shines recalls the much older Rice Miller coming to Walter for lessons. During the '40s, many of the Memphis bluesmen left for Chicago, but Big Walter, always a loner, chose to remain home and left music to work as an iceman and cook. Poor health finally brought him back to the blues, and in the early '50s he and guitarist Jimmy DeBerry recorded a handful of brilliant sides for the Sun and RPM labels.
Eddie Taylor returned to Memphis in 1953 to fetch his old friend, and since then Walter has made Chicago his home. Soon after his arrival, Big Walter joined the great, tough Muddy Waters band, replacing Junior Wells. But Walter stayed only a year with the band, and recorded only a few sides with Muddy. Then he went on his own, cutting excellent sessions for States and Cobra, and occasionally leading his own groups or working with his Memphis friends. Mostly he played local bars and recorded as a studio sideman for Cobra and Chess. Walter cut an album for Argo in 1964, but it failed artistically as well as commercially. For the last few years, he's toured with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All Stars. These days the solitary Walter appears rarely in the South Side taverns, but when he does, it's usually to jam spectacular harp duets with Carey Bell.
Walter chose the sidemen for this album from among the best bluesmen in Chicago. Veteran guitarist Eddie Taylor has played with Walter off and on for thirty-five years. On second harmonica (bass on some tracks) is Carey Bell, the rising star of Chicago blues harp and Walter's friend for twelve years. Carey is Walter's protege, and when they jam together in the blues bars, people refer to them as father and son. Carey's regular bassman, Joe Harper, and Frank Swan, drummer with Willie Dixon's band, were picked for the rhythm section. Maybe Johnny Shines said it best: "This harmonica blowing is really a mark for Walter, it's not something he picked up. He was born to do it."
Big Walter Horton's early sides have been reissued on Kent, Muskadine and Blues Classics. He has recorded as a sideman behind Johnny Young, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, J. B. Hutto, Floyd Jones, Wild Child Butler, Johnny Shines and Muddy Waters. Eddie Taylor has cut for Vee Jay (reissued on Cobblestone), Testament and Advent. His countless sessions have included work on all of Jimmy Reed's classic sides. Carey Bell has two albums of his own on Delmark, and has cut behind Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker and W. W. Williams. Joe Harper played on both of Carey's albums and on Jimmy Dawkins' first Delmark LP. Frank Swan, a South Side regular, has drummed behind LittleWalter, Earl Hooker and Harold Burrage, but this is his first LP appearance.
Big Walter Horton died in 1981. He made a number of other fine albums after this one (which was the second solo album of his career). However, he was never again teamed with Carey Bell on record. They did tour together through 1972 and 1973, playing with the same sensitivity and communication that they showed on these sessions.
Walter was a very gentle man. He used to call everyone "Grandpa" and expected everyone to call him the same. Although his health deteriorated in the last years of his life, his music retained the same gentleness that you can hear on this record. No harmonica player has come along since Walter who could play this way. We miss him.
-- Bruce Iglauer