WALTER HORTON (By Shaun Mather)

A.k.a. Shakey Horton and Big Walter Horton

Born 6 April 1921, Horn Lake, Mississippi
Died 8 December 1981, Chicago, Illinois

You can't be a bad lad if you're nickname is Shakey, although I think mine comes without the "e". The similarity ends there though, as by his teens Walter Horton was an exceptional harmonicist whilst all I could play, was truant. As with many of the blues greats, Horton was born in Mississippi and ended up in Chicago via Memphis. Actually, Horn Lake, Mississippi is on the fringes of the Memphis city limits.

At the age of five he began playing harmonica and by his late teens was playing for tips in Handy Park, Memphis alongside the likes of Johnny Shines and Furry Lewis. Unsurprisingly he hooked up with Sam Phillips who recorded two sides on Walter which were leased to Modern Records. The first, "Mumbles", was a reference to a nickname that Walter didn't really care for. Phillips then cut him with Jimmy DeBerry for the beautiful instrumental "Easy" which showcases Horton's mastery of the blues harp. The record was issued as by Jimmy and Walter on Sun 180.

Why anyone would leave Memphis for Chicago is something I'll never understand (plentiful work and Chess records can't compete with BBQ's and Peabody ducks). But the journey was the next one Horton took, sometime in 1953, where he found work in the clubs as both a band leader and a sideman (firstly with Eddie Taylor). He became a top session man for Chess Records, including sessions with Muddy Waters (replacing Junior Wells who'd been drafted), Willie Dixon, and Otis Rush. A quiet unassuming guy, Horton had his shares of trouble, being fired by Muddy for turning up drunk. His popularity expanded in the 60's when white audiences found the blues and he began travelling throughout the U.S. and Europe. His first album, The Soul of Blues Harmonica Classics for Chess said it all in the title and featured backing from Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. By the 1970's he was working folk and blues festivals, chiefly with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All Stars. In 1972 he teamed up with Carey Bell and recorded some duets with him for Alligator, including the now legendary album, Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell. He had a cameo role as a Maxwell Street musician in the cult-classic 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers. He died the following year. The Japanese label P-Vine has just reissued his earliest work on the CD "Memphis Recordings 1951".

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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