Thursday, July 31, 2008

Big Walter Horton

Bocce Boogie
Live 1978
Featuring Big Walter

Topcat Records

Oh, it's wonderful day in the neighborhood...when I run across something new that has Big Walter's harmonica featured so prominently as this live disc from 1978. Those of you that are students of the instrument need no introduction to Big Walter because you've got all his stuff. If you don't, then your blues music library is sorely lacking from the absence of the talents of the absolute tone master of the blues harp. This CD was recorded during the era that Walter was working with Johnnny Nicholas who has to be one of the most under appreciated blues guitarist out there. It's also during the same era that Walter played with quite a few pick up bands captured very well on the Little Boy Blue release with Sugar Ray Norcia's Blue Tones band with Ronnie "Youngblood" Earl doing quite the same thing that Jimmy Vaughan was doing down in Texas--picking some kind of authentic blues. Sugar Ray's band with Ted Harvey (drums), Mudcat Ward (bass)and Little Anthony (piano)joining Earl in kicking up a joyful noise at a party celebrating the marriage of Joan and George Nicholas at The Bocce Club in Rhode Island. Walter and Johnny take over this party, bigtime. Other than the opening standard, Every Day I Have The Blues, sung by Sugar Ray and a scorching closing instrumental by Earl, it is all about the interplay between Walter and Nicholas.

Big Walter nails his signature tunes, Walter's Boogie, La Cuaracha and Hard Hearted Woman with that fat, deep tone that is captured here very well. He throws in old time standards that he claims he hasn't played in decades such as Trouble In Mind and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. His singing has never been his strong suit, but his vocals were nice and strong for this party. As he says, "I'm in a good spirit and when I'm in a good spirit. Look out!" He sets about proving that statement and to me one of the values of the CD is his between song patter with the audience, establishing a party time connection.

It's the songs that I haven't heard from the Big Walter that are a revelation for me. He hijacks Willie Dixon's My Babe to make us forget Little Walter's version and make it his own as only he can and he takes Baby Please Don't Go out for a harp ride as well. I can't remember his Little Bitty Girl, and it may be on a recording I have, but it is a great tune and he cooks on it. When he's not the featured vocalist, then he is slamming out the tone backing up the proceedings. Nicholas provides substantial vocal chops on a couple of tunes and proves throughout that he knows how to swing the guitar behind a harp master.

I'll just stop here. If you want some 'mo Big Walter and none of us have enough, then go to and order directly from their website. I was extremely impressed with their prompt service. I almost ordered the Hollywood Fats with the Paladins CD because I KNOW what the Fatman can do with a guitar, but the budget needs a rest. Anyway--

P.S.--CAUTION: This recording was done on a reel to reel recorder with one microphone in a noisy club. I like it better than the Little Boy Blue live stuff. Think Magic Sam's Alex Club recordings--not hi-fi, but he left behind very little before he died, so it is valuable. I think Big Walter's harp comes through really well and that is the point. We don't have enough of his stuff and some of what is out there is way worse than this. THIS is not the place to begin a Big Walter collection. Snag Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell (Alligator), Chicago/The Blues Today! Vol. 3 (Vanguard), Fine Cuts (Blind Pig) and some of his first on Mouth Harp Maestro (Ace) or the Memphis Recordings (Kent) for starters. 'Tis all my opinion.


Anonymous said...

I dig your blog. In fact I'm broke from buying all of your CD recommendations. BUT!
This Big Walter CD is a terrible recording. So was the Hollywood Fats/Paladins CD I got with it. I'd have to sample any more CD's I'd buy from this label.
A small hickup in an otherwise perfect blog site.

Ricky Bush said...

Hey Dean--

Sorry that you didn't like the Big Walter. I should have added that the live recording was done on one tape recorder and was substandard as far an modern techniques go--I'll go back and edit that into the post. BUT, the point is that this is all we're ever going to get as far recordings added to the Big Walter discography--those that someone captured in the moment. It's kind of like those of Magic Sam's Alex Club/Ann Arbor recordings. Yeah, it is rugged--but, oh so right! It captures the atmosphere of a great party and I think Walter's harp comes through really well. That's the whole point. I'll edit and make that clear.

See ya--

Anonymous said...

Back in the 80's when I first picked up walters JSP live albums..bad quality or not it was like listening to music matter at what price!!!!
I'm still that way now!

Unknown said...

There's a ton of stuff that are not aurally up to snuff out there. Those old Paramount blues recordings have horrendous sound, but he mastery of Charlie Patton, or Skip James, or Bling Lemon Jefferson shine through the muck. Granted, a cheap tape machine will not reproduce well, but it captures a moment in time.