Little WalterOn 01/05/1930: Little Walter was born in Marksville, Louisiana, probably. Recently discovered census information suggests he may have been born as early as 1925. His full birth name was Marion Walter Jacobs. Walter grew up in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. He would learn to play the harmonica. Walter quit school and by the age of 12, he had left home to travel. He worked odd jobs and busked in New Orleans, Memphis, Helena and St Louis. Walter would perform on harmonica or guitar with blues artists such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards amongst others.
In 1945, Walter moved to Chicago. There he would occasionally find work as a guitarist but was mostly known for his harmonica playing. The first recording Walter would make was playing guitar backing Floyd Jones on an unreleased demo. Walter would use a small microphone in his hands when playing the harmonica to compete with electric guitar's volume, being one of the first to do so. Unlike others who used the technique, Walter deliberately pushed his amplifiers to the point of distortion. He is considered the first musician to use distortion in his music.
In 1947, Walter recorded for Bernard Abram's Ora-Nelle label. They would be his first released recordings.
In 1948, Walter joined Muddy Waters's band.
By 1950, Walter was recording acoustic harmonica on Waters's recordings for Chess Records. Also in 1950, Walter played the guitar on a session for the Parkway label with Muddy Waters and Baby Face Leroy Foster. His guitar playing was also featured on Chess sessions with Waters and Jimmy Rogers. His first amplified harmonica recording for Waters was on the song "Country Boy" released in 1952.
In 1952, Walter left Muddy Waters's band. Chess would continue to hire him for four years to record on Waters's recording sessions. Walter would become a bandleader again, recording for Chess's subsidiary label Checker Records. He recruited a backing band called the Aces who were backing Junior Wells. The band included David Myers, Louis Myers and Fred Below. In August, Walter had his first hit with his first song for Checker called "Juke". It went to number one on the Billboard R&B chart, to date the only harmonica instrumental which has reached the number one position on the chart. The song was the biggest hit that Chess had up till that point.
Between 1952 and 1958, Walter had 14 top ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts and 2 number 1 hits. Walter's vocal numbers were written by him or Chess A&R man Willie Dixon.
By 1958, the members of the Aces had all left. Robert "Junior" Lockwood, Luther Tucker and Odie Payne had been the initial replacements. Jimmie Lee Robinson and Freddie Robinson would also record and tour with Walter. Saxophone players Albert Ayler, and Ray Charles would occasionally be included on tours. By the late 1950s, Walter did not have a regular backing band and would hire various players in Chicago.
Walter would also play the harmonica for other Chess artists such as Jimmy Rogers, John Brim, Rocky Fuller, Memphis Minnie, the Coronets, Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones, Bo Diddley, and Shel Silverstein. He would also play for artists on other labels such as Otis Rush, Johnny Young, and Robert Nighthawk.
By the late 1950s, Walter was suffering from alcoholism and had various incidents resulting from his short temper.
During the 1960s, Walter would record and tour infrequently. He would mainly perform in the Chicago area.
In 1964 and 1967, Walter toured the UK.
The 1967 European tour with the American Folk Blues Festival resulted in the only known film footage of Little Walter performing. Also in 1967, the album "Super Blues" was released featuring Walter, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters.
On 15/02/1968, Walter died in his sleep at the apartment of a girlfriend in Chicago, Illinois. He died of coronary thrombosis which might have been caused by a fight at a nightclub though the official report declared he died of unknown or natural causes.
In 1986, the Blues Hall of Fame included Walter's song "Juke" into its Classics of Blues Recordings – Singles or Album Tracks category.
In 1991, the Blues Hall of Fame included Walter's album "Best of Little Walter" into its Classics of Blues Recordings – Albums category.
In 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included Walter's song "Juke" into its 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll category.
In 2008, Walter's song "Juke" was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. In the same year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Little Walter in the Sideman category. Also in 2008, the Blues Hall of Fame included Walter's song "My Babe" into their Classics of Blues Recordings — Singles or Album Tracks category.
In 2009, Walter's compilation album "The Complete Chess Masters: 1950–1967" was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.
Little Walter's daughter Marion Diaz Reacco established the Little Walter foundation which aims to create programs for the creative arts.