Big Walter Horton and Johnny Shines

Wanted to highlight an album this week. One of my favourite Chicago Blues albums of all time. Recorded across two sessions in 1969 and featuring The Johnny Shines Blues Band and everyone’s favourite tone machine, the man Big Walter Horton.

Johnny Shines was a contemporary and travelling partner of no less a blues luminary than Robert Johnson. He is a fearsome vocalist and guitar player, and the band on this record are powerful, tight, gritty and raw.

But of course for us harmonica folks the main attraction is Walter. It’s fair to say that most of his best recordings are on records where he’s playing accompaniment rather than fronting his own band. That’s often attributed to his general shyness and lack of confidence in his own singing voice (which, to be honest, I think is fine, but he was no Muddy Waters). Whatever the reason, he’s left us with some fantastic work to study and enjoy.

Walter is on fire on this record. The amplified tone is blistering. He stabs, stomps and roars – and all the time with precision and taste. His playing may be the highlight on the cuts he appears on, but every note is in service of the song, he never grandstands.

Accompaniment playing is a glaring gap in a so many harpers skill set. The craft of supporting a singer and co-operative ensemble playing is full of subtleties and requires thorough knowledge and understanding of the music. It also requires the player’s ego to take a back seat.

I’ll be writing more about accompaniment playing at some point in the future. In the meantime, you can enjoy the album in full on YouTube.

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