Marksville’s Little Walter praised by the Rolling Stones
Just about everyone in Avoyelles has heard of the Rolling Stones, but few realize a Marksville native‘s major impact on the band’s success.
The recent concert of the Rolling Stones in New Orleans brings to light the story.
It begins with Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs -- born in Marksville in 1930 and who died in Chicago in 1968.
His innovative and masterful playing of the harmonica and his Blues singing style have influenced not only younger Bluesmen, but the wider field of Rock as well.
ABOUT LITTLE WALTER
Jacobs was born in Marksville in 1930 and died in Chicago in 1968 at the age of 37. He was raised in neighboring Rapides Parish.
His cousin, the late Matthew “Boogie Jake” Jacobs, also from Marksville, was likewise a successful Bluesman in the same era as Little Walter and was “rediscovered” in the 1970s.
While working with bands featuring electric guitars in the late 1940s, Little Walter became frustrated that his music could not be heard over the guitars. He decided to cup a small microphone in his hand while playing what Blues musicians call a “mouth harp” or “harp.”
That technique allowed him to be heard above the guitar and revolutionized the use of harmonicas in the Blues.
ABOUT THE ROLLING STONES
Among Little Walter’s fans were two boys from Kent, England -- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
On July 15 -- a day later than scheduled due to Hurricane Barry -- the band played at the Superdome in New Orleans, just a few hundred miles from where their boyhood idol was born and grew up.
Jagger and Richards were friends in the early 1950s, separated when Jagger’s family moved to another town and reunited when they bumped into each other at a train station in 1961. Jagger was carrying several Blues records by performers such as Little Walter. That shared interest brought the two of them together to form what became the Rolling Stones.
In the band’s early days, they focused on playing the old Blues songs they loved as youths. After gaining success as recording artists, they began recording their own material.
Many who have grown up listening to the Stones do not associate them with the Blues. However, the Rolling Stones never forgot their first love or the entertainers who made that music come alive for those young boys so many years ago.
In December 2016, the Rolling Stones released their album, Blue & Lonesome. On it, Jagger, Richards and the rest of the band turned back the clock and became those young boys again, playing the songs of their first musical idols.
The result was the Rolling Stones’ first Grammy in 23 years when the album was named the 2018 Best Traditional Blues Album.
Not bad for a band that has been known for decades as “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.”
The album includes two songs written by Little Walter -- “I Gotta Go” and “Hate to See You Go.”
A third song, “Just Your Fool,” was written by Buddy Johnson, but the Stones used Little Walter’s arrangement for the album.
In a June 26 article in the online Off Beat Magazine (offbeat.com) by John Swenson, Richards is quoted as calling Little Walter Jacobs “one of the best singers of the Blues. His singing was overshadowed by the phenomenal mouth harp, which was based on a lot of Louis Armstrong’s cornet licks.”
Richards said the Rolling Stones were influenced by “Chicago Blues,” that style of “America’s music” that started in the Deep South and migrated to the North.
Little Walter was one of those “migrants.”
What made Chicago Blues different and more interesting to the boys from Kent was that “everything was recorded totally wrong,” Richards said. “But what is wrong and what is right? What matters is what hits the ear.
“Chicago Blues was so raw and raucous and energetic,” Richards continued. “If you tried to record it clean, forget about it.”
A characteristic of those Blues performers is their “over-the-top” sound.
Little Walter is credited with being the first musician to intentionally use electronic distortion as part of his music.
“When you hear Little Walter’s records, he hits the first note on the harp and the band disappears until that note stops, because he’s overloading it,” Richards noted.
“What you’re looking for is where the sounds just melt into one another,” he continued. “What you’re looking for is power and force, without volume -- an inner power -- a way to bring together what everybody in that room is doing and make one sound.
“So it’s not two guitars, piano, bass and drums,” Richards said. “It’s one thing, not five. You’re there to create one thing.”
That observation is reminiscent of a familiar Latin phrase: E Pluribus Unum -- “Out of many, one.”
Just another reason why the Blues truly is “America’s music.”