Friday, August 05, 2022

Listening To Little Walter.

A new CD arrived here a couple of days ago called The Best Of Little Walter. It was Little Walter’s first album and was originally released in 1958, a collection of ten tracks that were hits on the American R & B charts in the 1950s plus two B-Sides. Rolling Stone magazine placed this record at number 198 on its list of the 500 greatest albums ever made. I think Rolling Stone might have placed it that high because of a guilty conscience, due to the fact that most white Americans ignored blues music until it was sold back to them by British blues bands in the 1960s. I have played it four times now and it grows on me with every listen.

As is often the case with me discovering new music, it was Van Morrison who pointed me in the direction of Little Walter. I remember many years ago reading an interview with Van where he recounted a story about meeting Little Walter in London in 1964. Van’s band Them had just arrived in London, and Walter was on his first trip to Europe. They were all staying at the Aaland Hotel in London. In return for Van buying Walter some Chinese food he taught Van some of his harmonica techniques. I was reminded of all this five years ago when Van recorded Walter’s song Mean Old World on his Roll With The Punches album. If (like me until a few days ago) you don’t know a lot about Little Walter, I’ll just tell you a little about him that I learned from Wikipedia. 

He was born Marion Walter Jacobs on May 1, 1930, in Louisiana. He was a blues musician, singer, and songwriter, whose revolutionary approach to the harmonica had a strong impact on succeeding generations. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners' expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. He was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the first and, to date, only artist to be inducted specifically as a harmonica player. He arrived in Chicago in 1946 and joined Muddy Waters band in 1948. He left Muddy Waters in 1952 for his own career, but still appeared on most Muddy Waters records during the 1950s. 

His found fame recording as a solo artist with the instrumental Juke in 1952 which reached number 1 on the R & B charts. Walter was an alcoholic with a nasty temper which often led to fights and minor run ins with the law. In February 1968 he was involved in a fight while playing at a night club in Chicago and died the following morning. He was buried in an unmarked grave, until some fans had a marker designed and installed in 1991. 
So, to the album. The black and white photo on the cover shows Walter playing a Hohner 64 chromatic harmonica. The first track My Babe was written by Willie Dixon who also played bass and produced this album. I first heard of Willie Dixon in 1964 as the writer of Little Red Rooster by The Stones. Sad Hours is a slow instrumental with guitar and wailing harmonica. You’re So Fine is an upbeat R & B number typical of the music that inspired young bands of the 60s. Last Night is soulful by comparison. The great American writer and social commentator Studs Terkel said, ‘Perhaps, the essence of Little Walter comes through most clearly in the slow blues, “Last Night.” There is a moaning and a crying and a shouting here that makes it plain, this man’s harp is his voice – much like Armstrong’s trumpet speaks for him . . . Little Walter and his harmonica are of one piece’.

Blues With A Feeling
was originally written by Rabon Tarrant, but Walter rewrote it and claimed it as his own. It is now regarded as a blues standard which has inspired many musicians to play the harmonica. Can’t Hold Out Much Longer features Muddy Waters on guitar. Juke is a very catchy and probably Walter’s signature tune I would imagine. I wonder if this is the tune he taught Van to play? Mean Old World which I mentioned earlier is next, and I have shared a video below of Walter playing this song live with Hound Dog Taylor if you want to see it. It was originally recorded by T Bone Walker, another song that Walter took for himself. Off The Wall is another great instrumental displaying Walter’s virtuosity. You Better Watch Yourself sounds quite threatening, which might hint at Walter’s dark side. One of my favourite tracks is Blue Lights, a very atmospheric instrumental. The album ends with the upbeat Tell Me Mama. I have enjoyed getting into this album the last two days. I’m not an expert on blues music at all, so it has been quite educational for me listening to and learning about the great Little Walter.

Muddy Waters, Lttle Walter & Bo Diddly.

Little Walter: Mean Old World (Live)

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Tough Of The Track.

It is great being retired because there is no hurry to do anything. I have just been leisurely pottering around the house for the last few days. I ought to get dressed and go out for a walk to get some exercise, but I can do that tomorrow when I need some provisions. The postman just delivered a new CD that I had forgotten ordering. I’ll give it a good listen this afternoon and tell you about it later. I have read about 100 pages of my new book as well, so I might write something about that as well in due course.

I was watching the Commonwealth Games on TV last night. I haven’t had a lot of interest in it for decades. It seemed like a throw-back to Britain’s colonial past when we still had an empire, and it used to be called the Empire Games. It seemed like an anachronism in this day and age, especially when we have The Olympics. I only started watching because there didn’t seem to be anything else worth seeing on the telly last night. By the end of the evening, I had changed my opinion. 

Abebe Bikila

As well as the usual events they also had the para-games for people with disabilities. One of the last events was the men’s 100 metres for athletes with upper-limb disabilities. It was very emotional to see the joy on the face of Emmanuel Timitayo Oyimbo-Coker who won the gold medal and ran straight to his family to celebrate. It obviously meant everything to him and the other athletes who competed, so I should shut up with my churlish opinions. 
My favourite event was the 10,000 metres which was won by Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda who was chased home by three Kenyans.  I have always enjoyed the middle- and long-distance events ever since I was a kid when these athletes were heroes of mine. My mum used to give me the bus fare to go to school. Unknown to her, I would keep the money to spend on sweets and run all the way to school which was a couple of miles away. As I ran along, in my minds eye I would be racing against Abebe Bikela of Ethiopia who won the Olympic Marathon twice in 1960 and 1964. Others in my imaginary race would be Ron Clarke of Australia and Kipchoge (Kip) Keino of Kenya. As we neared the stadium (the school) I would increase the pace and win in a new world record time. 

Another childhood influence was the great Alf Tupper who was known as the tough of the track. He was a character in a comic magazine called The Victor. Alf was a working-class kid who lived at his auntie’s house where he slept on the kitchen floor. He would always beat the posh kids in races even though the race would have already started when he got to the track. He would often be delayed on his way there by having to catch a burglar or a jewel thief. After winning the race he would celebrate by buying his favourite fish n chips. Anyway, I might watch more Commonwealth Games events tonight.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sunday Afternoon.

It is Sunday afternoon. I won’t be going anywhere today. Sitting in my kitchen I am observing the starlings in their tree. I think there are more than 50 of them, but less than 100. They sit there as if on sentry duty watching everything in the area. Then suddenly, in a split second, whoosh!, and the whole flock fly off. It is as if they all think as one. It must be what Jung would call the collective unconscious. I have seen fish behave in the same way. I think all species including humans must behave like this to a greater or lesser extent. 
I got a new book in the post yesterday called A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It was published in 2005, the second major book by Eckhart after The Power Of Now. I have only read about 35 pages so far, but I think it is the sort of book you need to read slowly and carefully. I’ll try and read a couple of chapters a day and make sure I understand what he is saying. Eckhart Tolle is one of the most intelligent writers and teachers in the world today in my opinion, along with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.

On a more trivial note, in an hour's time it is the final of the women’s European Football championship between England and Germany. Most of the nation will be watching. At the end of the day, it is only a game of football, but it will take everyone’s minds off the cost of living crisis, strikes, energy bills, inflation, war in Ukraine, climate change, and all the rest of the depressing events in the media for a while.

UPDATE: England won 2-1 in extra time. A great game which will have changed women's football in this country for ever.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Calcutta: Stories from the Streets.

I have met some very interesting people working on the recycling crew at Glastonbury. I met Bob and his wife Paula a few years ago, and like me they keep returning year after year. At this year’s festival as we were chatting, Bob mentioned that he had written a book about his time in Calcutta. I said that I would like to read it and Bob kindly sent me a copy which arrived a few days ago. It is called
Calcutta: Stories from the Street. It is a slim volume of ten short stories, so it didn’t take me long to read it. It is also illustrated by Bob himself with charming drawings of Calcutta street scenes. Bob has travelled extensively throughout India many times over the past 40 years, but Calcutta seems to be his favourite place in the sub-continent. It isn’t a place that most people would think of as an exotic travel destination, but among the crumbling post-colonial architecture, the crowded narrow lanes and the street sleepers is where Bob felt most alive in India. In the stories he paints a vivid picture of the chai wallahs (tea sellers), beggars, hustlers and katcherawallahs (rag pickers) that he met and befriended. There is Raju who sold char on Sudder Street, Ram the newspaper seller, Shanti the alcoholic hustler, Apool the flute maker and many more. 

I don’t suppose I will ever get to go to Calcutta but reading Bob’s little book certainly gave me a sense of the place and the people struggling to survive in it’s labyrinth of crowded streets. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Bob wrote the book to raise some money for a charity called Calcutta Rescue which provides medical help for the street people, and support to enable their children to go to school. I’m not sure if the book is still available, maybe it was a limited edition because I couldn’t find a link to buy the book online. However, you can find out more about the charity here- 

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