Chicago harmonica master Billy Branch pays homage to the great Little Walter

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Billy Branch

By Howard Reich

(CHICAGO, IL) – Chicago blues harmonica master Billy Branch didn’t really want to record a tribute to a legend of his instrument, Little Walter.

But with last year’s 50th anniversary of Little Walter’s death and next year’s 90th anniversary of his birth, Branch’s wife, Rosa Enrico, persuaded him that attention must be paid.

“I started telling Billy, ‘This is something you need to do,’” recalls Enrico. “He was so hesitant because Walter is so revered. You can’t do Walter.”

Meaning it’s impossible — and unworthy — merely to mimic the blues harp innovator. And yet it’s impossible to escape his influence.

“To be honest, at first I kind of pushed against it,” says Branch, who will celebrate the release of his new album, Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter, Saturday night [Oct 19] at The Promontory [Chicago].

“There are so many Little Walter tribute albums — why do we need that? Then I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’”

The result is an eloquent recording spotlighting works written or recorded by Little Walter – but re-examined through Branch’s genre-expanding sensibility. This is a deeply personal album, each track a crisply envisioned response to Little Walter’s art from Branch and his band, The Sons of Blues.

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