Marion ‘Little Walter’ Jacobs was once considered the greatest blues harmonica player alive. During the first half of the 1950s he became one of the key architects of the electrified Chicago blues style, an ensemble, collaborative, urban approach that became the defining sound of both electric blues and blues-based rock throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and beyond.
Jacobs was born on May 1, 1930. He was abandoned by his mother at birth and raised by his father’s family on a farm outside Alexandria.
He discovered the harmonica at the age young age of eight, learning to play polkas and waltzes. By the age of twelve, Jacobs had already left home and was playing on the streets of New Orleans, often modeling his primitive blues style on the music of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.
By the early 1940s, Jacobs had made his way to Helena, Arkansas, where he furthered his education in traditional folk-blues under the tutelage of Rice Miller and Big Walter Horton.
After some time in St. Louis, Missouri, Jacobs arrived in the nation’s blues capital city of Chicago in 1947. There, he quickly became a standout street corner performer and soon was asked to join the genre’s first truly dominant electrified ensemble, the blues band of McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield.
Jacobs first recorded with an amplified harmonica in July 1951, debuting the technique that would set him apart from most of his contemporaries. He recorded most well known hit in 1952 with the upbeat instrumental “Juke,” though, he immediately left Waters to form a band of his own, despite the fact that subsequent frequent personnel turnover indicated he was ill suited for the role of bandleader.
From 1952 to 1955, Jacobs racked up an unequalled string of hits, twelve straight rhythm and blues (R&B) releases, each of whose sales reached the top ten sales charts. He and Waters continued to record and perform together on and off for years. Little Walter Jacobs died in Chicago in 1968.