Sunday, July 31, 2011

Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go"

Awhile back, I had a moment of crate-digger's envy at Doc's when I saw a cat with a vinyl copy of Little Walter's Hate To See You Go in his hand. Sure, I've had it on CD for many more years than I had it on vinyl, and it remains a fave at mi casa. But that cover -- a close-up of Marion Walter Jacobs' knife-scarred face that speaks to the way the man lived and died (in 1968, of injuries sustained in a fight) -- is as much a piece of art as the music contained in the grooves, and needs to be seen in as large a format as possible, like the pics from Avedon's In the American West.

I first heard the record my last semester of college via my bassplaying roommate, who also introduced me to Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart (we were both kind of obsessed with hobos at the time), as well as Ornette Coleman. My text that semester was the September 1975 Jimi Hendrix issue of Guitar Player, and we practiced songs for hours in between abusing various substances until both of us inevitably dropped out.

I'd been listening to blues for about four years then, but I hadn't heard Walter's worldly-wise barroom brand of jump blues before. Years later, after moving to Texas, I'd spend a couple of years trying to master all those jazzy inversions Robert Jr. Lockwood was playing behind Walter on tunes like "I Got to Find My Baby," as well as the "flutter picking" with which Luther Tucker decorated the doomy, minor key "Blue and Lonesome."

There were a couple of songs I was familiar with from Paul Butterfield ("Everything's Going to Be Alright," "Mellow Down Easy") and Freddie King ("Key to the Highway") albums, and "I Had My Fun" was a much more swinging rewrite of the venerable "Going Down Slow," which I knew from versions by Eric Burdon and Howlin' Wolf. Aside from his amplified harmonica prowess, Walter was a singer of singular insouciance, with a falsetto unmatched by any of his blues contemporaries; attitudinally, he was a precursor to hip-hop figures like Flava Flav and Snoop Dogg.

When I went to Korea, I had this album on one side of a cassette that had Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues on the other. When I was an NCO Academy instructor, I used to play this album in the auditorium before doing a walk on with a harp to wake the students up in the sleepy hour after lunch. I unhesitatingly recommend it, along with the aforementioned Wells album, Otis Rush's Original Cobra Recordings, and Howlin' Wolf's Howlin' Wolf/Moanin' in the Moonlight, to folks who say they don't dig blues.


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