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Big Walter Horton

Walter Horton, better known as Big Walter Horton or

Walter Shakey Horton, (April 6, 1921 December
8, 1981)[1] was an American blues harmonica player. A
quiet, unassuming, shy man, he is remembered as one of
the premier harmonica players in the history of blues.[2]
Willie Dixon once called Horton the best harmonica
player I ever heard.[2]

left the Muddy Waters band at the end of 1952, Horton

replaced him long enough to play on one session, in January 1953.[2]
Also known as Mumbles and Shakey (because of his head
motion while playing the harmonica), Horton was active
in the Chicago blues scene during the 1960s, as blues
music gained popularity with white audiences. From
the early 1960s onward, he recorded and appeared frequently as a sideman with Taylor, Shines, Johnny Young,
Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon and many others.[2] He
toured extensively, usually as a backing musician, and in
the 1970s he performed at blues and folk music festivals
in the U.S. and Europe, frequently with Dixons Chicago
Blues All-Stars.[4] He also performed on recordings by
blues and rock stars, such as Fleetwood Mac and Johnny


Born in Horn Lake, Mississippi, he was playing the harmonica by the time he was ve years old.[2] In his early
teens, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee. He claimed that
his earliest recordings were done there in the late 1920s
with the Memphis Jug Band,[2] but there is no documentation of them, and some blues researchers have stated that
this story was likely to have been fabricated by Horton.
(He also claimed to have taught some harmonica to Little
Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson I, but these claims are
unsubstantiated and, in the case of Williamson, who was
older than Horton, suspect.)

In October 1968, while touring the United Kingdom,

he recorded the album Southern Comfort with the former Savoy Brown and future Mighty Baby guitarist
Martin Stone.[5] In the late 1970s he toured the U.S.
with Homesick James Williamson, Guido Sinclair, Eddie
Taylor, Richard Molina, Bradley Pierce Smith and Paul
Nebenzahl, and he performed on National Public Radio
broadcasts. Two of the best compilation albums of his
work are Mouth-Harp Maestro and Fine Cuts. Also notable is the album Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell, released by Alligator Records in 1972.[2]

Like many of his peers, he lived on a meager income during much of his career and endured racial discrimination
in the racially segregated United States. In the 1930s he
played with numerous blues performers in the Mississippi
Delta region. It is generally accepted that his rst recordings were made in Memphis, backing guitarist Little
Buddy Doyle on Doyles recordings for Okeh Records and
Vocalion Records in 1939.[2][3] These recordings were in
the acoustic duo format popularized by Sleepy John Estes
with his harmonicist Hammie Nixon, among others. On
these recordings, Hortons style was not yet fully realized,
but there are clear hints of what was to come. He eventually stopped playing the harp for a living, because of
poor health, and worked mainly outside the music industry in the 1940s.[2] By the early 1950s, he was playing
music again. He was among the rst to record for Sam
Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, who later recorded
Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. His recordings for Sun include piano accompaniment by the young
Phineas Newborn, Jr., who later gained fame as a jazz
pianist. Hortons instrumental track recorded around this
time, Easy, was based on Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost
Lost My Mind".[4][5]

He worked at blues festivals and often performed at

the Maxwell Street market in Chicago.[2] In 1977, he
played on the Muddy Waters album I'm Ready, produced by Johnny Winter. He also recorded for Blind Pig
Records during this period.[2] Horton accompanied John
Lee Hooker in the 1980 lm The Blues Brothers.[2] His
nal recordings were made in 1980.[5]
Horton died of heart failure in Chicago in 1981, at the
age of 60,[2][6] and was buried in Restvale Cemetery, in
Alsip, Illinois.[7]
He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of
Fame in 1982.[2]

2 Discography

During the early 1950s he appeared on the Chicago blues

scene, frequently playing with Memphis and Delta musicians who had also moved north, including the guitarists
Eddie Taylor and Johnny Shines.[2] When Junior Wells

3 See also
List of blues musicians

List of Chicago blues musicians
List of harmonica blues musicians
List of harmonicists
List of juke joint blues musicians
List of Memphis blues musicians
List of people from Mississippi


[1] Eagle and LeBlanc, Blues: A Regional Experience, p.

193. According to the authors, the 1921 date comes directly from information obtained via Hortons birth certicate.
[2] Biography by Steve Huey. Retrieved
May 30, 2009.
[3] According to Dixon and Godrich (Recording the Blues,
p. 92), the ARC/Vocalion company les list Hammie
Nixon as the harmonica player, not Horton, but aural evidence proves this wrong.
[4] Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to
Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 118119. ISBN
[5] Filisko, Joe (December 9, 2009). Walter Hortons
Recordings (PDF). Retrieved January 16, 2010.
[6] Eagle and LeBlanc, p. 193.
[7] Walter Shakey Horton at Find a Grave
[8] Johnny Young & Big Walter. Discogs.
Retrieved October 1, 2014.
[9] Old Friends. Discogs. Retrieved September 17, 2014.

External links
Horton biography by Michael Erlewine
Illustrated Walter Horton discography


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