Blues with a Feeling

"Blues with a Feeling" is a blues song written and first recorded by Rabon Tarrant with Jack McVea and His All Stars in 1947,[1] as the B-side of "Slowly Goin' Crazy Blues". Although the original release was commercially unsuccessful, the song later became an important hit for Little Walter, with whom it is usually identified.

"Blues with a Feeling"
Blues with a Feeling Rabon Tarrant.jpeg
Single by Rabon Tarrant with Jack McVea and His Door Openers
A-side"Slowly Goin' Crazy Blues"
ReleasedAfter May 10, 1947 (1947-05-10)
RecordedLos Angeles, 1947
GenreJump blues
LabelBlack & White
Songwriter(s)Rabon Tarrant

Walter transformed the tune from Tarrant's jump blues-oriented style to a Chicago blues harmonica classic. It became a blues standard and an important piece for blues harp players.

Original songEdit

Rabon Tarrant, a drummer with saxophone player Jack McVea's band, wrote "Blues with a Feeling" and also provided the vocals.[2] The song was performed as a mid-tempo twelve-bar jump blues that features sax and trumpet soloing over a strong backbeat. The opening verses reflect on lost love:

Blues with a feeling, that's what I have today
Blues with a feeling, that's what I have today
Gonna find my baby, yes if it takes all night and day.

In its "Advance Record Releases" column, Billboard describes the single on Black & White Records as "slowly goin'".[3] The notice appears on May 10, 1947, about one month after McVea's number two hit "Open the Door Richard" exited the chart.[3][4] However, "Blues with a Feeling" did not reach the chart.[4]

Little Walter renditionEdit

Little Walter follows much of McVea's verses and arrangement, however, he updates the song in his own style.[2] It is performed as a slow blues with Walter playing a distinctive harp intro and accompaniment to his vocals.[2] When Little Walter recorded "Blues with a Feeling" in Chicago on July 23, 1953, he was backed by one of the classic Chicago blues bands.[5] Sometimes known as the Aces, Dave Myers and Louis Myers (or possibly Jimmy Rogers) provide guitars, with Willie Dixon on upright bass, and Fred Below on drums.[5] Walter biographer Tony Glover notes the "nice interplay between the guitar and the harp ... with Below providing momentum with his shuffling brush work, and an effective stop-time vocal verse from Walter near the end".[2]

Checker Records, a Chess Records subsidiary that issued most of Walter's recordings, released the song as a single in 1953.[5] According to Glover, Checker choose the second of two takes, largely due to a faulty audio connection which affected the first.[2] The single debuted on two of Billboard's R&B charts on October 10, 1953, eventually reaching number two on the Juke Box chart and number six on the Best Seller chart.[4]

The song is found on many Little Walter compilations, including his first, Best of Little Walter (1958), the comprehensive The Essential Little Walter (1993),[5] and, as a part of The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, His Best (1997). An alternate take, recorded in September 1953, was released on Blues with a Feeling: Chess Collectables, Vol. 3 (1995).[6] Unlike most of Walter's alternate takes, this later recording differs little from the original.[6]


Little Walter's adaptation of "Blues with a Feeling" has been identified as a blues standard and a "necessary passage of every beginning harmonica player" by blues historian Gérard Herzhaft [fr].[7] Music writer Mary Katherine Aldin notes that it "has been cited by a number of his imitators as the song that inspired them to take up harmonica".[6] Harmonica instructional book author Winslow Yerxa identifies it as one of the best-known "tried-and-true harmonica tunes" and one of six blues favorites.[8][9]

Although "Blues with a Feeling" was written and originally performed and recorded by Tarrant, Little Walter usually receives the credit for the tune.[6] Many subsequent releases also credit him, leading Aldin to call it "maybe Walter's most covered song".[6]


  1. ^ Original record labels give the band name as "Jack McVea and His Door Openers". McVea had previously had a hit with "Open the Door, Richard". See also Billboard, May 10, 1947, page 122.
  2. ^ a b c d e Glover, Tony; Dirks, Scott; Gaines, Ward (2002). Blues with a Feeling: The Little Walter Story. New York City: Routledge. eBook. ISBN 978-0-415-93711-5.
  3. ^ a b "Advance Record Releases – Race". Billboard. Vol. 59, no. 18. May 10, 1947. p. 122. ISSN 0006-2510.
  4. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. pp. 261, 285. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  5. ^ a b c d Snowden, Don (1993). The Essential Little Walter (Album notes). Little Walter. Los Angeles: MCA Records/Chess Records. pp. 4, 12. OCLC 29365560. CHD2-9342.
  6. ^ a b c d e Aldin, Mary Katherine (1995). Blues with a Feeling (Album notes). Little Walter. Universal City, California: MCA Records/Chess Records. p. 11. CHD2-9357.
  7. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Blues with a Feeling". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 440. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  8. ^ Yerxa, Winslow (2015). Harmonica For Dummies (2nd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 299. ISBN 978-1-118-88076-0.
  9. ^ The short list of six blues favorites also includes Walter's "Juke"; Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Bye Bye Bird" and "Help Me"; and Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" and "Bright Lights, Big City". Yerxa, page 299.