Big Walter Horton
Big Walter Horton, also known as Shakey Walter Horton, was a harmonica luminary said to be one of the best blues harp players of all time.
Besides developing a unique hornlike tone on the instrument and a completely distinctive virtuoso style, Horton was one of the earliest proponents of the amplified harmonica sound that defined Chicago-style blues, claiming to have begun using an amplifier around 1940. He was also a teacher and mentor to many players including harmonica icons Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II and, twenty years later, to top players Peter “Madcat” Ruth and Carey Bell.
Horton was born in Horn Lake, Mississippi, on the outskirts of Memphis, in 1917 and moved to Memphis at an early age. He played with many of the top blues musicians of the 1930s era, including blues guitarist Robert Johnson, Big Joe Williams, and Ma Rainey.
After dropping out of the music scene for most of the 1940s, Horton came back big in the 1950s, playing with B. B. King, Eddie Taylor, and Muddy Waters (sitting in for Little Walter), as well as recording a large body of material for Sam Phillips's seminal record label Sun Records. Horton's most famous recording, which came out of the Sun Records period, was an instrumental track recorded with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry called “Easy,” which became his biggest hit and is considered to be one of the best harmonica recordings of all time. Horton died in 1981.
The summer after Little Walter made his number one hit song “Juke” he decided to keep cool by having the doors removed from his Lincoln. Apparently he rode around like this until an accident with a center median caused the car to flip over — with Big Walter Horton riding alongside. The two got out of the car, flipped it right-side-up, and fled the scene.