Walter Horton, better known as Big Walter (Horton) or Walter “Shakey” Horton (April 6, 1921 – December 8, 1981) was an American bluesharmonica player. A quiet, unassuming, shy man, he is remembered as one of the premier harmonica players in the history of blues. Willie Dixononce called Horton “the best harmonica player I ever heard.”
Horton was born in Horn Lake, Mississippi. He was playing the harmonica by the time he was five years old. In his early teens, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee. He claimed that his earliest recordings were done there in the late 1920s with the Memphis Jug Band, but there is no documentation of them, and some blues researchers have stated that this story was likely to have been fabricated by Horton. (He also claimed to have taught some harmonica techniques to Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson I, but these claims are unsubstantiated and, in the case of Williamson, who was older than Horton, dubious.)
Like many of his peers, he lived on a meager income during much of his career and endured racial discrimination in the racially segregated United States. In the 1930s he played with numerous blues performers in the Mississippi Delta region. It is generally accepted that he was first recorded in Memphis, backing the guitarist Little Buddy Doyle on Doyle’s recordings for Okeh Records and Vocalion Records in 1939. These recordings were acoustic duets, in a style popularized by Sleepy John Estes and his harmonicist Hammie Nixon, among others.