Juke’ was the groundbreaking instrumental that established Little Walter Jacobs as a national recording star and brought unprecedented prominence to the harmonica as a prime instrument in the blues. Untold numbers of blues performers took up the harp in the wake of ‘Juke”s 20-week run on the Billboard rhythm & blues charts. Other Chicago harmonicists had played similar tunes – -notably Snooky Pryor on the 1948 instrumental ‘Boogie,’ while Junior Wells said he played it as theme song in clubs — but it was Walter who made it into a masterpiece, ushering in a new sound with his swooping, amplified attack. Walter was Muddy Waters’ harmonica player at the time, and according to some accounts, ‘Juke’ was recorded at the end of a Muddy session for Chess. However, studio logs indicate that Chess brought Walter in for his own session on another day, accompanied by Muddy and company (Jimmy Rogers and Elga Edmonds). The unexpected success of the record provided the inspiration for Walter to break away and launch his own career touring the country. ‘Juke’ remains the only harmonica instrumental to ever reach No. 1 on the rhythm & blues charts.
LITTLE WALTER and HIS NIGHT CATS
Little Walter, harmonica; Muddy Waters; guitar; Jimmy Rogers, guitar; Elga Edmonds, drums. Recorded May 12, 1952, Chicago. Released on Checker 758 (45rpm and 78rpm) in 1952.
Discographical details from The Blues Discography 1943-1970.
— Jim O’Neal