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"the best of Little Walter"project
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6824 posts
Sep 24, 2020
9:09 PM
I had this idea to learn every song from the album "The Best Of Little Walter".

I believe I got this idea from something I read in Margie Goldsmith's book, "Masters of the Harmonica". Rick Estrin mentioned that when he was starting there were 3 essential albums to study. He was kind of saying that these days the it's so much material that it can maybe be kind of overwhelming, and that the limited sources he had meant that he studied it in depth.
Anyway, that inspired me because Rick seems to have done okay and I have already made a substantial beginning on learning a lot of the songs on those records. I also believe it helps me to have a project in mind that I can really get behind.

Here's what is involved in the Best of LW project, in case anyone might be interested.

Side One
1. "My Babe" 2x12 bar solo and intro riff. Bflat harp
2. "Sad Hours" 5 chorus instrumental. Bflat harp
3. "You're So Fine" 4 bar Intro plus 2 12 bar choruses and a truncated 12 bar chorus (its only the first 8 bars, then he sings on the last 4) A harp
4. "Last Night" 1 x 12 bar solo plus fills. G harp
5. "Blues with a Feeling" 12 bar Intro, fills, 12 bar solo and closing tag. D harp
6. "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" 4 bar intro, fills and 12 bar solo, ending tag. C harp

Side Two
1. "Juke" 8 chorus instrumental, A harp
2. "Mean Old World" 4 bar intro, fills, 1 chorus solo, outro tag, Bflat harp
3. "Off the Wall" 8 chorus instrumental, C harp
4. "You Better Watch Yourself" 4 bar intro, fills, 1 chorus solo, tag. A harp
5. "Blue Light" 4 chorus instrumental, featuring chromatic 3rd position and G harp in second position
6. "Tell Me Mamma" 4 bar intro, fills, 2 12 bar solos, tag . C harp

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 25, 2020 12:14 AM
1131 posts
Sep 28, 2020
3:55 AM
Great project!

I know 4 song of that list (and no, Juke is not one of those)
Sorry for any misspell, english is not my first language.
4 posts
Sep 28, 2020
8:51 PM
Ambitious project, awesome! I have the intention to download Gussow’s Juke lesson at some point down the road.

I really love Little Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy” and have never understood why it isn’t included on the best-of set.
6830 posts
Sep 30, 2020
2:01 AM
I think it is included in later collections.
I guess as a B side it was always going to struggle to make the "Best of" album, although there are 2 B sides among the 12 tracks of that first collection. I think Mean Old World was the B side of Sad Hours and probably was treated as the A side to an extent. The other b side on "best of" is Blue Light, and I don't know but maybe the decision maker thought it was better balance or maybe they just particularly liked that one.
Mellow Down Easy is a fun song to play though. I remember when I was learning that one, I used to play it as I walked to work. It's a great collection of licks, many of which could be used as a theme for a new song.
Alec Paclin has a YouTube lesson on it, which is what I used to help me concentrate. There's only the opening and a couple of 12 bar choruses on the harp so it's a reasonably quick piece to study in some ways. It has some deeper angles.

Yeah, I read what Rick Estrin said about learning these songs, and I looked at the list and realised I had already been playing about half of them so that made it seem more like something I could achieve in the next year or so. I'm thinking we could do something with it, like use it as a featured set perhaps. Dunno if we are really worthy to try and pull that one, butwouldn't hurt to try it maybe.
42 posts
Oct 02, 2020
8:14 AM
Ronnie Shellist did a great video lesson with tab for the alternate take of Can't Hold Out Much Longer. I've been working through it and it is a great slow song. The alternate take doesn't have vibrato but does have all the octaves and splits.
6831 posts
Oct 02, 2020
10:21 PM
I don't think I've ever really thought about the vibrato on that song.

Is this the song in which Ronnie was using the alternate take because it was more true to pitch?
I've found a YouTube lesson from him on this song but I don't think it's the one you are looking at, Hamerman. Do you have a link?

The intro of the alt take does sound very similar to the original release, but the solo is fairly different.

I just realised that Can't Hold Out Much Longer was the B-side of Juke. I mean, I already knew that, but I forgot it when I was thinking about B-sides in my previous post.

I've been playing this song in rehearsal with the band for a while but never put it into a set. Only recently I think I figured out why.
I had been very focused on my own performance, but sometimes the factors that make or break a song are not just the harp and vocals. Ikr, who'd have thought?

In this instance, it was the drums. On the recording, the drums really emphasize the 1 beat. It's there throughout the song, and it's reflected in both the vocal delivery and the way the harp parts are constructed. If you play it with an even, generic "slow blues" drum beat across all four beats in the bar, it doesn't really work. As soon as there's no vocal or harp, the character of the song is lost and it reverts to a generic slow blues.

I knew it wasn't working, and mainly I felt this when I called for the guitar to take the lead but it took me a little while to pin down the issue.
When we adjusted the drums to emphasise the 1, it became much more coherent.
43 posts
Oct 03, 2020
11:15 AM
I was wrong about the version. It was the alternate take of "Blue Midnight". The main take had a lot more vibrato on it. "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" was the well-known version. The alternate take of "Blue Midnight" is here:
I think it is a better take overall, but tastes differ.
6832 posts
Oct 03, 2020
3:55 PM
Thank you,Hamerman. I appreciate the clarification.
Yeah, Blue Midnight is an interesting one. It was recorded at the same time as the Sad Hours/Mean Old World (October '52) but not released until 1960, as the B-side of the rather tragic re-release of My Babe (with the"gospel choir" overdub).

It was later included on the 1969 LP "Hate To See You Go" and in the same year appeared on a compilation named Quarter to Twelve, compiled and released in the UK on Peter Shertser's "Red Lightning" label.

The alternate recording dates from the same session but didn't turn up until '89 on an album of chess instrumentals, named Wrinkles.
It's 30 seconds longer than the original release. That may have been a factor in deciding which cut to use back in the 60s, although neither is particularly long.
It was also released in 1995 on CD, the chess collectibles volume 3 "Blues with a Feeling" set featuring many previously unissued recordings.
6864 posts
Dec 28, 2020
11:09 PM
I think I'm just about ready to debut "off the wall". The final chorus is a killer and I think I still don't have it quite right but as usual I'm fixing my way through the last 4 bars.
I have no idea why, but it's taken me almost as long to get across the first 8 bars of the final chorus as it did to get the previous 7 choruses. Then again I continue to work on those too.
What I mean is that I think I have it down well enough that I can roll it out with a band in front of an audience. That's kind of a different issue than studying a song to be able to play note for note. I'm sure I could keep working for years on catching every nuance. That isn't important from a performance angle but having a song to perform is just kind of a side effect of studying these things. It's the technique movement, sounds that come from really working on this. Listening well, and doing your best to discover how to make the sound you just can't figure out is where I think the big benefits are.
6866 posts
Dec 31, 2020
9:17 PM
Here is "Take 1"; my first attempt at recording Off The Wall. I still dont have the last chorus sorted but i though best to record what i have so i can now hear where the rough areas are. I can already tell i need pay more attention to the start, probably to the bends in chorus 4, chorus 2 i think will become smoother just through playing it more frequently, chorus 3 is an ongoing project but i think not too bad, chorus 5 i'm relatively happy with, chorus 6 (the break chorus) continues to merit attention. I'm possibly most happy with chorus 7. Chorus 8 continues to elude but i'm kinda OK with what i'm playing through the first 8 bars.

anyway, work in progress but here it is. please let me know if link doesn't work

1137 posts
Jan 09, 2021
9:53 AM
That is a very good "Take 1". Is a good song to study.

This is my 1/2 take.

I am the guy with glasses:
Sorry for any misspell, english is not my first language.
6924 posts
Mar 23, 2021
4:57 PM
I was feeling good about this project. Off the Wall is now part of band rehearsals. Thinking about "What did i learn", apart from a song i can play along with etc.

Part of it is in the listening and the breaking down. Ive done "quite a bit" of this sort of thing over the last couple of years and it is something which definitely becomes easier and faster with practice. I think it must be building neural connections.
There are obviously just the general benefits of playing a lot. These songs motivate me to pick up the harp and play with intent and i think that is simply beneficial generally.
This song is quite dynamic and that is also a good study. For instance, the harp in Chorus 1 is quite emphatic, Ch2 is backed off, driven by subtle technique and timing, 3 is strident, 4 is quiet and rhythmic, 5 is also fairly quiet but melodic, then 6 comes along and takes your head off with its repetitive wailing, the drum break signals a restart on ch7 with its variations on the woody woodpecker lick, and then finally ch8 introduces use of the 7 draw over the IV chord, and includes some quite fast playing.
Apart from all the colour and movement, i think mimicking the dynamic range of the song is really beneficial.
I have not broken a reed for several years now, January 2017 i think was the last time i had to replace a reed in one of my harps, so I'm content that I've learned to play fairly well inside the tolerance of the instrument, but there is another level which i think I'm beginning to find. there are passages in Off The Wall which i think are just not feasible to play if you use much force.

I think I've also begun to appreciate the macro structure of Walter's approach to creating instrumentals through studying these kinds of songs.

So i think Off The Wall has been a very worthwhile study.

Not sure what is next. I really need to go back to Sad Hours i think.

Maybe i need to start at the top and make recordings of them all before i move on. I'm sure there are plenty of things i think i have down which i probably would hear differently now.

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