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‘Juke’: The Rolling Stones’ Harmonica Hero Little Walter Rules The Joint

Credited to Little Walter & his Night Cats, the song was the first chart entry by the singer and distinctive harmonica man.

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'The Best of Little Walter' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
'The Best Of Little Walter' artwork: UMG

The blues harmonica player who was named by Mick Jagger as his favorite, and was much loved by all of the Rolling Stones, was hot on the charts of early autumn in 1952. Little Walter, a key signing to Chess Records’ Checker label who later became best known for his seminal 1955 recording of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe,” was sitting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues charts for October 4 that year with the landmark instrumental “Juke.”

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Credited to Little Walter & his Night Cats, the song was the first chart entry by the singer and distinctive harmonica man born Marion Walter Jacobs in Marksville, Louisiana. Still only 22, he’d been playing on Muddy Waters’ Chess singles as a member of his band for a couple of years, but “Juke” was his big solo breakthrough.

After entering the listings in early September, the single was now starting the second of what would be eight non-consecutive weeks atop the survey called Most Played Juke Box Rhythm & Blues Records. It started a hugely successful sequence of releases for Walter that extended to 13 more Top 10 R&B hits in a row, also including “Sad Hours,” “Blues With A Feeling,” and “You’re So Fine,” as well as “My Babe.”

Listen to the Blues Classics playlist.

That same week, Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues Notes column noted that Walter had signed a new deal with Shaw Artists and was playing a residency at the Hollywood Rendezvous Club in Chicago, with a band featuring Freddy Bellow on drums and Louis and David Miles on guitars. Walter’s days as a sideman were behind him.

In late 2018, Walter’s outstanding contribution to blues history was further recognized with the inclusion of four of his tracks on Confessin’ The Blues, a double album compilation of genre landmarks hand-picked and curated in association with the Stones themselves. The notes for that set detailed Walter’s struggles with what we would now call a bipolar personality, which frequently landed him in fights including, effectively, the one that ended his life, in 1968 at the age of just 37.

Buy or stream “Juke” on Little Walter’s Blues Greats compilation.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Roger

    October 5, 2015 at 12:46 am

    “…ain’t going to heaven, if there ain’t no harps…just ain’t going…”

  2. Pete Sheridan

    October 5, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Walter is the guy all modern blues harp players learned the basics from. His contributions to harmonica music in general, and the blues in particular, need to be adequately recognized. In the Blues Hall of Fame, he should be Number One. He led a hard life, with a terrible end, but his music is timeless.

  3. Mike Loew

    October 4, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    The brothers last name was Myers, not Miles. AND, only one “L” in Fred Below.

  4. Chris Anderson

    May 25, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Simply the BEST!

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