Juke (song)

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Single by Little Walter & His Night Cats
B-side "Can't Hold On Much Longer"
Released August 1952 (1952-08)
Format 10" 78 rpm, 7" 45 rpm records
Recorded Chicago, May 12, 1952
Genre Chicago blues
Length 2:44
Label Checker 758
Writer(s) Walter Jacobs
Producer(s) Leonard Chess
Little Walter & His Night Cats singles chronology
"Mean Old World"

"Juke" is a harmonica instrumental recorded by then 22-year-old Chicago bluesman Little Walter Jacobs in 1952. Although Little Walter had been recording sporadically for small Chicago labels over the previous five years, and had appeared on Muddy Waters' records for the Chess label since 1950, "Juke" was Little Walter's first hit, and it was the most important of his career. Due to the influence of Little Walter on blues harmonica, "Juke" is now considered a blues harmonica standard.


In May 1952, Little Walter had been a regular member of the Muddy Waters Band for at least three years. "Juke" was recorded on 12 May 1952 at the beginning (not the end, as commonly thought) of a recording session with Muddy Waters and his band, which at the time consisted of Waters and Jimmy Rogers on guitars, and Elga Edmunds on drums, in addition to Little Walter on harmonica. The originally released recording of "Juke" was the first completed take of the first song attempted at the first Little Walter session for Leonard Chess; the song was released at the end of July on Chess's subsidiary label Checker Records as Checker single #758. The song was recorded by recording engineer Bill Putnam at his Universal Recorders studio at 111 E. Ontario St. on the near north side of Chicago, Illinois. (Coincidentally, several years earlier Putnam had recorded one of the few other harmonica instrumentals ever to become a hit record, "Peg O' My Heart" by The Harmonicats.)

After recording two takes of "Juke" (the second, vastly different alternate take finally being issued for the first time over 40 years later), at the same session Little Walter recorded "Can't Hold On Much Longer", which took considerably more takes than "Juke" to complete. After the completion of Little Walter's recordings, Muddy Waters recorded his only song that day, "Please Have Mercy", backed by Little Walter and the band.


In an apparent acknowledgement of the Little Walter's unique instrumental skills, the instrumental "Juke" was promoted as the "A" side of the single, with the vocal "Can't Hold On Much Longer" as the "B" side. Within weeks of its release, "Juke" had reached the number-one spot on Billboard's R&B chart, unheard of for a harmonica instrumental; no other harmonica instrumental has ever achieved this position, before or since. "Juke" was not only a major success for Little Walter, it was the biggest hit record for Chess or any of its associated labels up until that time, and only the third Chess record to hit #1. Juke stayed in the #1 spot for 8 weeks, surpassing both previous Chess #1s, which had occupied the #1 position for a combined total of six weeks. The record stayed on the Billboard charts for a total of 20 weeks, and was one of the biggest R&B hits in the U.S. in 1952.


The hit song launched Little Walter's successful solo career, and he immediately left the Muddy Waters band to form his own band, which was initially known as "The Jukes" in order to capitalize on the success of his hit single. Beginning with the massive success of Juke, Little Walter would go on to eclipse the chart success of his former boss Muddy Waters through the rest of the 1950s.

Juke became the most important and influential song for blues harmonica players of the era, and was expected to be in the repertoire of any serious blues harmonica player; at least in Chicago, blues harmonica players were judged on their ability to play it. In addition, Juke popularized the Chicago blues harmonica technique still in use today by harmonica players around the world: using a small hand-held microphone cupped to the harmonica to produce a dynamic, rich and slightly distorted amplified harmonica sound.


"Juke" is played as a swinging shuffle featuring a boogie-woogie guitar pattern, and is originally in the major key of E; Walter played it in 'second position' (cross harp) on a harmonica tuned to the key of A. "Juke" is a standard 12-Bar blues song, set for the most part in the time signature of 4:4, but its time changes once to 3:4 and once to 2:4. "Juke" contains 8 choruses.[1]

The harmonica playing in "Juke" is deep-toned and features long saxophone-like phrases. "Juke" is a dynamic song, building and releasing in intensity several times. The opening eight bars of the song, or "head", consist of a repeated six note phrase commonly and frequently played by jazz and swing horn players in the 1930s and '40s, but of undetermined origin. The remainder of the song is an improvisation of Little Walter's own invention.

"Juke" was originally titled on the recording session log as "Your Pat Will Play"; later it was discovered that this was a mistake, a mis-hearing of Little Walter's intended title, "Your Cat Will Play". The song was renamed "Juke" upon release in July 1952, probably by label owner Leonard Chess.

Junior Wells later claimed that he was playing "Juke" prior to Little Walter's recording of it, although Wells never recorded his version. Snooky Pryor's 1948 recording "Snooky and Moody's Boogie," begins with the same repeated ascending riff that Little Walter uses in the first eight bars of "Juke", although the remainder is distinctly different. (Pryor himself claimed in an interview that Walter "picked up 'Snooky and Moody's Boogie' and made 'Juke' out of it.")[2] Jimmy Rogers, guitarist on "Juke", claimed that parts of "Juke" were based on an unrecorded intermission/theme song frequently played by piano player Sunnyland Slim, which he called "Get Up The Stairs Madamoiselle".

"Juke" has been covered by Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Billy Branch, Paul Butterfield and Carey Bell, among others.[3]


On December 19, 2007, The Recording Academy announced that it was inducting Little Walter's recording of Juke into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008, as a song that "...exemplify[s] the best qualities that make the recording arts such a vital part of our culture — and each not only uniquely reflects the zeitgeist of its time, but also possesses the enduring power of transcending time."[4]

In 1986, "Juke" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classics of Blues Recordings – Singles or Album Tracks" category.[5]


  1. ^ Little Walter's "Juke"[1]
  2. ^ "I Started the Big Noise Around Chicago" — an interview with Snooky Prior by Jim O'Neal, Steve Wisner, and David Nelson, Living Blues #123 (Sept./Oct. 1995), pp. 14-15.
  3. ^ Carey Bell[2]
  4. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame 2008 inductees press release[3]
  5. ^ Blues Foundation Hall of Fame[4]
Preceded by
"My Song" by Johnny Ace and His Beale Streeters
Billboard Best Selling Retail R & B National Best Sellers number-one single
September 27, 1952
Succeeded by
"Five Long Years" by Eddie Boyd