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Bocce Boogie – Live 1978

Featuring: Big Walter Horton, Ronnie Earl, Johnny Nicholas, and More

Styles: Chicago Blues - 15 songs; 70:43 minutes; Library Quality

Dear Skyy,

What I wouldn’t give to spend one more night with Big Walter Horton! There were times when a lot of the old guys would all be at the same club. None of them would even think of getting up to play when Walter Horton was on stage! They wouldn’t even look at Walter! Walter just had this stare in his eyes.

He would see me walk into a club. He would come up to me and put his eyeball about half an inch from my eyeball with the harmonica in his mouth and hit a screaming note and say, “I don’t feel good tonight!” Then he would play “La Cucaracha,” “I Been Around The World,” “That Ain’t It,” or “Walter’s Boogie.”

When Walter Horton played – it was the most incredible feeling – like being in an electric chair. He made the top of my head go numb!  The feeling, his phrasing, his tone, and his presence were just undeniable. The look that he had – that fire in his eyes – it was like, “Don’t mess with me; if you do, I’ll cut you!”

Whenever people would ask him about other harmonica players like Little Walter [Jacobs] or Sonny Boy Williamson II, he would say, “I taught’em all!” -- and he did.   -    Yer fan,  - Gnu Walter Well

Hey Gnu,

Would you give $14.95 plus $1.79 shipping? TopCat Records in Dallas TX has just released a fantastic and rare live set from 1978 featuring Big Walter Horton. In it you can hear Big Walter say his phrase you remember, “I don’t feel good tonight.” The CD is titled Bocce Boogie, and it is a party, literally!   -   Skyy

This CD is real-deal Chicago Blues played the way it is supposed to be played. On this September night in 1978, some of the best blues musicians gathered to celebrate the marriage of Joan and George Nicholas and the reunion of Guitar Johnny Nicholas, Big Walter Horton, and Ronnie Earl along with Sugar Ray Norcia and his great band ( Sugar Ray Norcia  is a 2008 Blues Blast Music Award nominee). There were also about 150 of their closest friends, even though the Bocce Club only held 75 people. Listen carefully at the end of “Breakin’ with the Earl,” and you’ll hear an ecstatic fan exclaim, “This is Rhode Island?!” On this night, this was the blues in Southern RI.

The artists: Big Walter Horton - vocals and harp, John “Guitar Johnny” Nicholas - vocals and guitar, Ronnie “Youngblood” Earl Horvath – guitar, Sugar Ray Norcia - vocal (“Every Day I Have The Blues”) and chromatic harmonica (“That’s Why I’m Cryin’”), Ted Harvey – drums, Mudcat Ward – bass, and “Little Anthony” Giarossi – piano.

The sound of this CD is great even though it was not recorded professionally. A technical note of interest: this party was recorded by Dick Koulbanis on his reel to reel tape recorder with one microphone. Only once, on “La Cucaracha,” is there a frequency waver due to stretched or slipping tape, and, naturally, there is crowd noise from the guests. Party photos on the cover and liner sleeve are courtesy of Jack Koulbanis. The 15 songs are annotated with song title, song author, and lead artist on the particular track.

Standout moments: Hearing Big Walter talk to the audience between songs, hearing Walter defend his honor that he was, indeed, the song’s author before playing “Walter’s Boogie,” a young Ronnie Earl on “Breakin’ With the Earl,” the guitar solo on “Sweet Black angel,” and Guitar Johnny Nicholas on the title track “Bocce Boogie.”

Fans of Chicago Blues and history buffs, get this CD. Even at quadruple the price, it would be worth it to spend one more night with Big Walter Horton, live!

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL

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