NUVO Interview: Dennis Gruenling 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the death of blues harmonica great Walter Jacobs, aka Little Walter (“My Babe,” “Juke”). Earlier this year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A few months ago, New Jersey jump harmonica player Dennis Gruenling released a Little Walter tribute album called I Just Keep Lovin’ Him (BackBender). All this Little Walter love will be swinging by the Slippery Noodle Inn Sept. 16.

“Walter is still one of the most popular blues artists today. Not just among harmonica players,” Gruenling said. “Eric Clapton has talked about how Walter was an influence on him.”

Gruenling compared Little Walter’s impact on harmonica to T-Bone Walker and Jimi Hendrix’s impact on guitar.

“After Little Walter, everyone has been influenced directly or indirectly by him,” he said. “He left a big stamp on blues harmonica. If you hear his early stuff, you can hear the influence of the original Sonny Boy Williamson. After that he took more chances with the instrument. He was so creative instrumentally and melodically. Nobody has come close before or since.”

Gruenling is a Jersey guy influenced by West Coast, swinging harmonica players. He’ll be joined on the Noodle stage by Steve Guyger and Doug Deming.

“Steve spent many years with Jimmy Rogers and the original Chicago blues guys,” Gruenling said. “Real deal Chicago blues. I cut my teeth on all that stuff, but I listened to lot of other things. A lot of swing sax stuff, jump R&B stuff. Lester Young and those guys. Doug is a kindred spirit. We’re the same age and he’s also a big fan of old school Chicago blues.”

I Just Keep Lovin’ Him features half the songs by Gruenling’s own band and the other half with a slew of guest stars. Harmonica men Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Rick Estrin (Little Charlie and the Nightcats) and Steve Guyger and guitarist Rusty Zinn keep Gruenling company.

“These are all friends of mine, so it was a blast to record. This is the top of the heap,” he said.

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