CLEVELAND. The induction last year of “Little Walter” Jacobs to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has touched off a controversy that threatens to mar the institution’s image as a place where black and white musicians co-exist in blissful harmony. The problem?
“There are a lot of bad white harmonica players out there who, if they’d been born into the proper circumstances of grinding poverty and racial discrimination, might have had a shot at greatness,” says rock critic Gabe Newsome. “Instead, they were forced to live in split-level suburban homes and practice the blues harp in two-car garages.”
Jacobs induction in 2007 was viewed as long overdue, as he was a sidemen on seminal blues recordings by Muddy Waters, among others, and led his own group. He is sometimes confused with “Big Walter” Horton, and “Medium Walter” Poindexter, two other harmonica players of different sizes.
The first inductees into the Bad White Harmonica Players wing will be Neil Young, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, whose searing intro on The Beatles’ hit “Love Me Do” is generally considered the high water mark of bad white harmonica playing.
The new wing will be funded by a grant from the Chapman Foundation for the Study of Bad White Harmonica Playing, a non-profit founded by Cornelius “Iceman” Chapman, a long-time bad white harmonica player. “We are grateful for the Foundation’s generous gift of $129.30,” said Hall of Fame assistant director Ty Warren, “as we understand it represents Mr. Chapman’s entire earnings from freelance writing in 2008.”