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  • Writer's pictureDennis Gruenling

Little Walter tribute on Chromatic Harmonica

This week's Tunesday features my instrumental re-working of the Little Walter classic "Up The Line".

When I was back on the East Coast, I would often perform locally when I had a chance with some greta local talent in between stints on the road. Usually I would book a show with Philly-based harp wizard Steve Guyger, or sometimes with NJ guitar powerhouse Dave Gross (who also runs Fat Rabbit Studios).

This performance goes back to 2011 at a Harmonica event at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ. I can't recall all of the details, but I likely just threw the trio together (Dave Gross/guitar, Tom Papadatos/drums) to play a few tunes for fun at the event. I've always loved this tune from Walter's songbook, and it was a staple in my Jump Time band for while. I recorded it with vocals (courtesy of Gina Fox) on my Little Walter tribute album "I Just Keep Lovin' Him" (2008), but sometimes I would perform it as an instrumental, as I do here.

Of course, I'm a huge Little Walter fan, acknowledging his place in blues harp history as the King of Post War Chicago Blues Harp. Walter also had many classic instrumentals in his catalog, but sometimes a song seems ask for a re-interpretation, and this song did this for me. Being as I would usually leave the solo section as a free-form I-chord section, I felt it was nice to lay the vocal melody on harp for the verses and then stretch out more for the solo section.

On this version, I am using a Hohner 270 chromatic in the key of G (one of my favorite harps), with the song being in the key of A. Although it's clear Little Walter is a big influence on my style, on chromatic George Smith is also a huge influence and it is obvious on this piece. From some of the phrasing, to the multitude of split-tongue octaves played on the chromatic harmonica, the influence of George Smith is clear.

Both Walter and George were huge influences of the following generations of blues harp players, but they had very different approaches and styles on the chromatic harp. I tried to dip into both styles on this piece, and I hope you all enjoy it!

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