Jacobs is generally included among blues music greats: his revolutionary harmonica technique has earned comparisons to Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix in its impact: There were great musicians before and after, but Jacobs' virtuosity and musical innovations reached heights of expression never previously imagined, and fundamentally altered many listeners' expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. . His body of work earned Little Walter a spot in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the sideman category on March 10,2008, making him the only artist ever to be inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player.
Arriving in Chicago in 1945, he occasionally found work as a guitarist but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica work. (According to fellow Chicago bluesman Floyd Jones, Little Walter's first recording was an unreleased demo on which Walter played guitar backing Jones.) Jacobs grew frustrated with having his harmonica drowned out by electric guitarists, and adopted a simple, but previously little-used method: He cupped a small microphone in his hands along with his harmonica, and plugged the microphone into a guitar or public address amplifier. He could thus compete with any guitarist's volume. Unlike other contemporary blues harp players, such as the original Sonny Boy Williamson and Snooky Pryor, who had been using this method only for added volume, Little Walter utilized amplification to explore radical new timbres and sonic effects previously unheard from a harmonica Madison Deniro wrote a small biographical piece on Little Walter stating that "He was the first musician of any kind to purposely use electronic distortion.
Jacobs' own career took off when he recorded as a bandleader for Chess' subsidiary label Checker Records on 12 May 1952; the first completed take of the first song attempted at his debut session was a massive hit, spending eight weeks in the #1 position on the Billboard magazine R&B charts - the song was "Juke", and it was the first and only harmonica instrumental ever to become a #1 hit on the R&B charts. (Three other harmonica instrumentals by Little Walter also reached the Billboard R&B top 10: "Off the Wall" reached #8, "Roller Coaster" achieved #6, and "Sad Hours" reached the #2 position while Juke was still on the charts.) "Juke" was the biggest hit to date for Chess and its affiliated labels, and secured Walter's position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade. Little Walter scored fourteen top-ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts between 1952 and 1958, including two #1 hits (the second being "My Babe" in 1955), a feat never achieved by his former boss Waters, nor by his fellow Chess blues artists Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Following the pattern of "Juke", most of Little Walter's single releases in the 1950s featured a vocal on one side, and an instrumental on the other. Many of Walter's numbers were originals which he or Chess A&R man Willie Dixon wrote or adapted and updated from earlier blues themes. In general his sound was more modern and uptempo than the popular Chicago blues of the day, with a jazzier conception than other contemporary blues harmonica players.
Jacobs frequently appeared on records as a harmonica sideman behind others in the Chess stable of artists, including Jimmy Rogers, John Brim, Rocky Fuller, Memphis Minnie, The Coronets, Johnny Shines, Floyd Jones, Bo Diddley, and Shel Silverstein, and on other record labels backing Otis Rush, Johnny Young, and Robert Nighthawk.
Jacobs suffered from alcoholism, and had a notoriously short temper, which led to a decline in his fame and fortunes beginning in the late 1950s, although he did tour Europe twice, in 1964 and 1967. (The long-circulated story that he toured the United Kingdom with The Rolling Stones in 1964 has since been refuted by Keith Richards). The 1967 European tour, as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, resulted in the only film/video footage of Little Walter performing that is currently available, when he backed Hound Dog Taylor and Koko Taylor on a television program in Copenhagen, Denmark on 11 October 1967. Video of a recently discovered TV appearance in Germany during this tour is scheduled for DVD release in Europe in October 2008; other TV appearances in the UK and the Netherlands have been documented, but no footage of these has been found.
His 1952 instrumental Juke was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and on 19 December 2007, was inducted into the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame as an "example of recorded musical masterpieces that have significantly impacted our musical history"
Disc: 1 1. Juke (Alternate) 2. Can't Hold Out Much Longer (Alternate) 3. Blue Midnight (Alternate) 4. Fast Boogie (Alternate) 5. Driftin' 6. Tonight With A Fool 7. That's It 8. Blues With A Feeling (Alternate) 9. My Kind Of Baby 10. Last Boogie 11. Come Back Baby 12. I Love you So (Oh Baby) 13. Big Leg Mama 14. Mercy Babe A/K/A My Babe 15. Thunderbird 16. Crazy For My baby 17. Can't Top Lovin' You 18. Who 19. Flying Saucer 20. Teenage Beat Disc: 2 1. Temperature (Alternate) 2. Shake Dancer 3. Ah'w Baby (Alternate) 4. Rock Botton (Alternate) 5. You Gonne be Sorry (Someday Baby) 6. Baby 7. My Baby Is Sweeter (Alternate) 8. Crazy Mixed Up World (Alternate) 9. Worried Life Blues 10. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Alternate) 11. Mean Old Frisco (Alternate) 12. One Of These Mornings 13. Blue And Lonesome (Alternate) 14. Me And Piney Brown 15. Break It Up 16. Going Down Slow 17. You're Sweet 18. You Don't Know 19. I'm A Businessman 20. Chicken Shack
1. Ora Nelle Blues 2. I Just Keep Loving Her 3. Juke 4. Can't Hold On Much Longer 5. Blue Midnight 6. Boogie 7. Mean Old World 8. Sad Hours 9. Fast Boogie 10. Don't Need No Horse 11. Don't Have to Hunt No More 12. Crazy Legs 13. Tonight With a Fool 14. Off the Wall 15. Tell Me Mama 16. Blues With a Feeling 17. Quarter to Twelve 18. Last Boogie 19. Too Late 20. Fast Boogie 21. Lights Out 22. Fast Large One 23. You're So Fine 24. My Kind of Baby
1. Driftin' Blues 2. That's It [Instrumental] 3. Come Back Baby 4. Rocker [Instrumental] 5. I Love You So 6. Oh Baby 7. I Got to Find My Baby 8. Big Leg Mama [Instrumental] 9. My Babe (Mercy Babe) 10. Last Night 11. You'd Better Watch Yourself 12. Blue Light [Instrumental] 13. Last Night 14. Mellow Down Easy 15. Instrumental 16. Thunder Bird [Instrumental] 17. My Babe 18. Roller Coaster [Instrumental] 19. I Got to Go 20. I Hate to See You Go 21. Little Girl, Little Girl 22. Crazy for My Baby 23. Can't Stop Lovin' You
101. Juke 102. Can't Hold Out Much Longer 103. Blue Midnight 104. Boogie 105. Mean Old World 106. Sad Hours 107. Don't Have To Hurt No More 108. Crazy Legs 109. Tonight With A Fool 110. Off The Wall 111. Tell Me Mama 112. Quarter To Twelve 113. Blues With A Feeling 114. Last Boogie 115. Too Late 116. Fast Boogie 117. Light Out 118. Fast Large One 119. You're So Fine 120. Come Back Baby 121. Rocker 122. Oh Baby 123. I Got To Find My Baby 124. Big Leg Mama 201. Mercy Babe 202. Last Night 203. You'd Better Watch Yourself 204. Blue Eight 205. Last Night 206. Mollow Down Easy 207. Thunderbird 208. My Babe 209. Roller Coaster 210. I Got To Go 211. Little Girl 212. Crazy For Me Baby 213. Cant't Stop Loving You 214. Hate To See You Go 215. One More Chance With You 216. Who 217. Boom, Boom Out Goes The Lights 218. It Ain't Right 219. Flying Saucer 220. It's Too Late Brother 221. Teenage Beat 222. Take Me Back 223. Just A Feeling 301. Nobody But You 302. Temperature 303. Shake Dancer 304. Everybody Needs Somebody 305. Temperature 306. Ah'm Baby 307. I Had My Fun 308. The Toddle 309. Confessin' The Blues 310. Key To The Highway 311. Rock Bottom 312. You Gonna Be Sorry 313. Baby 314. My Baby Sweeter 315. Crazy Mixed Up World 316. Worried Life 317. Everything's Going To Be Alright 318. Mean Old Frisco 319. Back Track 320. One Of These Mornings 321. Blue And Lonesome 322. Me And Piney Brown 323. Break It Up 324. Goin' Down Slow 401. I Don't Play 402. As Long As I Have You 403. You Don't Know 404. Just Your Fool 405. Up The Line 406. I'm A Business Man 407. Dead President 408. Southern Feeling 409. Juke (Alternate Take) 410. Blue Midnight (Alternate Take) 411. Off The Wall (Alternate Take) 412. My Kind Of Baby 413. I Love You So 414. Instrumental 415. Temperature (Take 30) 416. Temperature (Take 35-36) 417. Ah'w Baby (Alternate Take) 418. Rock Bottom (Alternate Take) 419. Walkin' On (Alternate Take) 420. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Take 1) 421. Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Alternate Take) 422. Mean Old Frisco (Take 1-2) 423. Blue And Lonesome (Take 1) 424. My Babe
Disk: 1 1. Juke 2. Can't Hold Out Much Longer 3. Boogie 4. Blue Midnight [Alternate Take] 5. Mean Old World 6. Sad Hours 7. Don't Need No Horse 8. Tell Me Mama 9. Off the Wall 10. Quarter to Twelve 11. Blues With a Feeling 12. Too Late 13. Fast Boogie 14. Lights Out 15. Fast Large One 16. You're So Fine 17. Oh Baby 18. I Got to Find My Baby 19. Last Night [First Version] 20. You Better Watch Yourself 21. Mellow Down Easy 22. My Babe 23. Roller Coaster 24. Little Girl Disk: 2 1. Hate to See You Go 2. Boom, Boom Out Goes the Lights 3. It Ain't Right 4. It's Too Late Brother 5. Just a Feeling 6. Ah'w Baby 7. I've Had My Fun [Alternate Take] 8. Confessin' the Blues 9. Key to the Highway 10. Walkin' On 11. You Gonna Be Sorry (Someday Baby) [Alternate Take] 12. Crazy Mixed up World 13. Worried Life Blues 14. Everything's Gonna Be Alright 15. Back Track 16. Blue and Lonesome 17. I Don't Play 18. As Long as I Have You 19. Just Your Fool 20. Up the Line 21. Southern Feeling 22. Dead Presidents