Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Blues With a Feeling

for Tom “Papa” Ray & Walter Liniger

”Blues with a feeling
that’s what I have today Blues with a feeling
that’s what I have today I’m gonna find my baby
if it takes all night & day”
—Little Walter

The Miles Davis of the blues,
Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs
drifted up to the Delta
from Monroe & New Orleans,
Louisiana, in 1944
at the age of 14—

Born on May Day,
1930, in Marksville,
Little Walter left home at 12
& hit the road for 2 years
until he made it to Helena

where he could hang around the joints
& dig the Delta sound
coming in off the streets
& through the radio
with Rice Miller
& Robert Lockwood,

Robert Nighthawk, Jimmy
Rogers, Houston Stackhouse,
sleeping on the pool tables
at night, a little kid who
”seems to have depended
on the generosity

of various gamblers,
hustlers & musicians
for cigarettes & meals.” Walter
would sneak onto the bandstand
while Sonny Boy was gambling
& play his little ass off—

”He'd go around these musicians,”
Jimmy Rogers remembers, “& they
didn't want to recognize him,
but he was learning something,
see.” Sonny Boy could hear it,
& one night they became close

when a woman came after Walter
with a knife, & Sonny Boy
stepped in to stop her
before she could prevent
the further development
of his greatest disciple.

But Little Walter
was still 14 years old then,
listening to John Lee Williamson
& Louis Jordan records,
staying in trouble all the time
& turning his life into music.

”I brought Little Walter up,
you know,” Robert Lockwood
told me in 1995. ”Oh,
he was a wild young man.
We used to go out in the country
to play these Saturday night parties

& after we’d all be in the car
Little Walter would jump up
on the spare tire
on the back of the car
like they had them then,
& he’d ride back there

all the way out in the country with us,
& when we’d be getting ready
to park the car,
he’d jump off the back
& go hide himself somewheres
until we started to playing. Then he’d jump up

in the doorway, until I had to say,
’You little motherfucker,
you know it’s too late
for me to take you back,’
& I’d end up havin’ to let him
play with us the whole night.”

In 1945
Little Walter took over
for Robert Lockwood
on KFFA Radio
playing for Mother’s Best Flour
with Dudlow Taylor on piano.

In 1946 or '47
Walter joined Honey Boy Edwards
in the city of St. Louis
& they left for Chicago together.
”We caught a ride,” Honey Boy says,
”out from East St. Louis

& come into Decatur, Illinois,
about broke. Stopped in a train station
& played there
in the depot. The man let us
play in there. So we made some money
& made it on in to Chicago.

”Now Little Walter, he would never
stay still. He'd walk the streets
all the time. We got us a room
down there near Maxwell Street,
& that Sunday morning
I was laying up there sleeping.

He comes in there, says ‘Man,
come on. Get up. Let’s make us
some money. These streets is
full of people.’ I said,
’I ain’t got no shirt to put on.’
He said, ‘I’ll get you one,’

went down there & got me a
second-hand shirt off the street
for 15 cents. We went downstairs
& hooked up on the street,
& I guess we made about
50 or 60 dollars that Sunday—

we made a cigar box full of money
3 times, went around the corner
to a place called Goldberg’s
3 times to cash in
those nickels & quarters
for some bills. Then one lady

come out there. She was a preacher,
sanctified. She wrote Walter
some cards
asking him to come out to her house,
& he said OK. He didn’t
come back

until that Thursday. She had
bought him a new suit,
new shoes,
dressed him up all sharp,
cable stitches on.”

Little Walter made his first recordings
soon after that
for Bernard Abrams
at the Maxwell Radio Record Company
with Othum Brown
on guitar, Ora Nelle #711,

”I Just Keep Loving Her” b/w
”Ora Nelle Blues,” but no sales
were forthcoming, & after a short gig
at the Purple Cat on West Madison,
Little Walter packed it in
& headed back to Helena. But

by the latter half of 1948
Walter was back in Chicago,
full-grown at 18
& working with Muddy Waters,
Baby Face Leroy,
& Jimmy Rogers

at the Do Drop Inn
& the Club Zanzibar
”& terrorizing competing blues bands
on their off nights. They would
drop into local taverns,
ask to spell the resident band,

blow them away,
& gleefully announce
the place & time
of their next regular gig. Musicians
began calling them
’The Head Hunters.’”

— Detroit
August 13, 1982/
New Orleans
December 11, 1995