The Complete Chess Masters: 1950-1967

The Complete Chess Masters: 1950-1967

by Little Walter



It is no exaggeration to call Little Walter the Jimi Hendrix of the electric harp: he redefined what the instrument was and what it could do, pushing the instrument so far into the future that his music still sounds modern decades after it was recorded. Little Walter wasn't the first musician to amplify the harmonica but he arguably was the first to make the harp sound electric, twisting twitching, vibrant runs out of his instrument; nearly stealing the show from Muddy Waters on his earliest Chess recordings; and so impressing Leonard Chess that he made Muddy keep Walter as his harpist even after Waters broke up his band. Chess also made Walter into his studio's house harpist and started to release Little Walter solo records with the instrumental "Juke" in 1952. "Juke" became a smash hit and turned Little Walter into a star, making him a steady presence on the '50s R&B charts. Like Chicago blues itself, Little Walter suffered a downturn of fortunes in the '60s, his career first eclipsed by the rise of rock & roll, but his decline was assisted in no small measure by the reckless alcoholic behavior that led to his early death in 1968. However, Hip-O Select's tremendous five-disc set The Complete Chess Masters proves that Little Walter remained capable of surprises until the end -- and that he's a major artist whose legacy only seems more formidable when it's heard as a whole, as it is here. Technically speaking, the title The Complete Chess Masters may be a bit of a misnomer. Little Walter issued the majority of his sides on Chess' sister label Checker with his full LPs appearing on Chess proper, but this is splitting hairs: Walter cut all his solo sides for Chess, often in Chess studios, cutting most during a spell in the early and mid-'50s when he was the most successful artist on the label, leapfrogging over his boss Muddy Waters with "Juke," a song cut at the tail end of a Muddy-led session. Once "Juke" hit, the sessions started coming fast and furious, with Walter entering the studio four or five times a year during the mid-'50s, churning out singles that turned into hit after hit and not just on the strength of his electrified harp. Walter was a supple, nuanced singer, the roundness of his voice standing in sharp contrast to his lacerating harp, providing an inherent tension within his records; when he sang "Mellow Down Easy," it sounded as if it were possible to ease into his funky groove, but that harp pulled you right out. Such kinetic inadvertent drama fueled his prime '50s recordings and almost everything he cut was of shockingly high quality, extending beyond the hits "Blues with a Feeling" and "My Babe" and into B-sides and forgotten sides. This makes The Complete Chess Masters consistently absorbing listening, hampered only slightly by a rather large preponderance of alternate takes that can sometimes slow the momentum of this set. Conversely, the appearance of Walter's legacy winds up being bolstered somewhat by Chess' over-recording of him at his peak and general avoidance of him in his decline. This five-disc set might be billed as stretching from 1950 to 1967 but that's misleading: all but 15 tracks here were recorded in the '50s, a fact that winds up camouflaging just how long Walter was in dire straits. His fall from Chess' biggest star to being given charity sessions reflects the impact of rock & roll on blues sales -- not only did they wipe out crossover blues hits, but Walter couldn't adapt to the times, his electric harp too closely tied to Chicago blues. So, he wound up with only a handful of sessions in the '60s, all presented on the final stretch, none less than entertaining, none a patch on Walter at his peak. These final recordings are necessary to fill out the picture, but what remains are those '50s sessions, which defined what electric blues was and what it could do, and produced music that is still invigorating and essential -- and best appreciated here, where the true depth of Little Walter's achievement is easy to behold.

Product Details

Release Date: 03/17/2009
Label: Hip-O Select
UPC: 0602517978416
catalogNumber: 001263602


Disc 1

  1. Evans Shuffle
  2. Juke
  3. Juke
  4. Can't Hold out Much Longer
  5. Can't Hold out Much Longer
  6. Blue Midnight
  7. Blue Midnight
  8. Boogie
  9. Mean Old World
  10. Sad Hours
  11. Fast Boogie
  12. Fast Boogie
  13. Fast Boogie
  14. Fast Boogie
  15. Don't Need No Horse
  16. Driftin'
  17. Driftin'
  18. Don't Have to Hunt No More
  19. Crazy Legs
  20. Tonight with a Fool
  21. Off the Wall
  22. Off the Wall
  23. Tell Me Mama
  24. Quarter to Twelve
  25. That's It

Disc 2

  1. Blues with a Feeling
  2. Blues with a Feeling
  3. Last Boogie
  4. Too Late
  5. Fast Boogie
  6. Lights Out
  7. Fast Large One
  8. You're So Fine
  9. My Kind of Baby
  10. Come Back Baby
  11. Rocker
  12. I Love You So (Oh Baby)
  13. Oh Baby
  14. I Got to Find My Baby
  15. I Got to Find My Baby
  16. Big Leg Mama
  17. Mercy Babe (My Babe)
  18. Last Night
  19. You'd Better Watch Yourself
  20. Blue Light
  21. Instrumental
  22. Last Night
  23. Mellow Down Easy
  24. My Babe
  25. My Babe

Disc 3

  1. Thunderbird
  2. Roller Coaster
  3. I Got to Go
  4. Hate to See You Go
  5. Little Girl
  6. Crazy for My Baby
  7. Can't Stop Loving You
  8. One More Chance with You
  9. Who
  10. Boom, Boom out Go the Lights
  11. It Ain't Right
  12. Flying Saucer
  13. It's Too Late Brother
  14. Teenage Beat
  15. Take Me Back
  16. Just a Feeling
  17. Nobody But You
  18. Temperature
  19. Shake Dancer
  20. Everybody Needs Somebody
  21. Temperature
  22. Temperature
  23. Temperature
  24. Temperature
  25. Temperature
  26. Ah'w Baby

Disc 4

  1. Ah'w Baby
  2. I've Had My Fun
  3. I've Had My Fun
  4. I've Had My Fun
  5. The Toddle
  6. Confessin' the Blues
  7. Key to the Highway
  8. Rock Bottom
  9. Rock Bottom
  10. Walkin' On
  11. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby)
  12. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby)
  13. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby)
  14. One of These Mornings
  15. Baby
  16. My Baby Is Sweeter
  17. My Baby Is Sweeter
  18. Crazy Mixed Up World
  19. Crazy Mixed Up World
  20. Worried Life
  21. Worried Life
  22. Everthing's Gonna Be Alright
  23. Everything's Gonna Be Alright
  24. Everything's Gonna Be Alright
  25. Everything's Gonna Be Alright
  26. Mean Old Frisco
  27. Mean Old Frisco

Disc 5

  1. Back Track
  2. One of These Mornings
  3. Blue and Lonesome
  4. Blue and Lonesome
  5. Me and Piney Brown
  6. Break It Up
  7. Going Down Slow
  8. You're Sweet
  9. I Don't Play
  10. As Long as I Have You
  11. You Don't Know
  12. Just Your Fool
  13. Up the Line
  14. I'm a Business Man
  15. Dead Presidents
  16. Southern Feeling
  17. Back in the Alley
  18. I Feel So Bad
  19. I Feel So Bad
  20. Chicken Shack
  21. Feel So Bad
  22. Make It Alright
  23. Juke

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Little Walter   Primary Artist,Harmonica,Vocals
Willie Dixon   Bass
Henry Gray   Piano
Buddy Guy   Guitar
Louis Myers   Guitar
Lee Jackson   Guitar
Robert Lockwood   Guitar
Fred Below   Drums
Bo Diddley   Guitar
J.T. Brown   Tenor Saxophone
Francis Clay   Drums
George Cook   Drums
Ernest "Big" Crawford   Bass
Duncan   Drums
Elgin Evans   Drums
Jarrett Gibson   Saxophone
Donald Hankins   Saxophone
George Hunter   Drums
Frank Kirkland   Drums
Lafayette Leake   Keyboards
Jack Meyers   Bass
Muddy Waters   Guitar
Odie Payne   Drums
Junior Pettis   Bass
Jimmie Lee Robinson   Guitar
Jimmy Rogers   Guitar
Otis Spann   Piano
Billy Stepney   Drums
Luther Tucker   Bass,Guitar
Billy "The Kid" Emerson   Organ
Sonny Wimberley   Bass
Andrew Stephens   Bass
David Lee Myers   Guitar
Fred "Rodriguez" Robinson   Guitar

Technical Credits

Willie Dixon   Composer,Producer
Big Maceo Merriweather   Composer
Tony Glover   Liner Notes
Leonard Chess   Producer
Marshall Chess   Photo Courtesy
Phil Chess   Producer
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup   Composer
Scott Dirks   Liner Notes
Barry Hansen   Memorabilia
Ellas McDaniel   Composer
McKinley Morganfield   Composer
William Lee Conley Broonzy   Composer
Billy "The Kid" Emerson   Composer
Don Bronstein   Cover Photo
Mike Rowe   Photo Courtesy
Charles Segar   Composer
Pat Lawrence   Executive Producer
Ryan Null   Photo Coordination
Val Wilmer   Cover Photo
Michele Horie   Art Direction
Joel Cohen   Composer

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