Digging deeper into the character of Juke as a means of understanding Little Walter's transition from one playing style to another, Joe stressed again that Walter came from being a disciple of Sonny Boy I.
John Lee began recording in 1937 and influenced lots of harp players like Walter with his pre-amplification style. He played in a way that was perfect for duo and small combo situations without mic or amp. This meant his playing needed to contribute rhythm as we mentioned last week and that it had to be a "big" sound that carried.
How did Chicago blues, started by, arguably, the founder Sonny Boy, differentiate itself? Joe breaks down harp playing into five "types of sound":
- Clean notes
- Chords and chordal effects
- Dirty notes and splits
- Percussive effects
Ghost chords are those faint, rhythmic breathing patterns that stem from John Lee and turn up as tiny fragments in Walter's playing. Chicago players in general played these rhythmic placeholders very faintly whereas the Memphis crowd tended to play them much more deliberately. Understanding that all of Walter's playing hangs on top of this rhythmic drive is crucial - as Shoji has said previously too, the note choice is incidental to the rhythmic structure that holds it all together and makes it jump.
Regarding dirty notes, listen back to the way Sonny Boy played the six blow with a little of the 7 coming through and you understand why Walter plays that way on the head. It's baked into him from his Sonny Boy influence.
Outside of the five types of sound, Joe also stressed that the other thing about Juke is the degree of inhale notes. There are points Walter could have used a blow note as a passing note but opts instead for the bend closest to that melody note. Why? It milks the strength of the instrument and stays in the blues scale. As Joe says, "Inhaling - that's where the magic is."
- Two more classes before Holiday break.
- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew