Chicago Blues Harmonica great Junior Wells
When the great Junior Wells from Memphis Tennessee started playing harmonica he almost went to jail for stealing a Marine Band harp. Wells wanted the harmonica he saw in a pawnshop on Harrison Street, Chicago costing 2 dollars. Junior only had one-fifty. He smashed the one-fifty down, took the Marine Band and ran out. Junior got caught by the police and went to court. The judge was impressed by Wells story and decided to pay the fifty cents. Who was this judge? I don’t know, but the guy was great.
Junior always looked relax on stage, his performances were energetic, his voice soulful and his screams James Brown-like he had charisma. He could sing Blues Ballads, Rock songs and Funk Tracks at the same time. He made a party explode and with his solid band he just had to make a crowd swing. And that was Junior Wells his trademark.
Harmonica with Sonny Boy Williamson
As a kid he learned to play harmonica from the best. At age ten Sonny Boy ‘John Lee’ Williamson took care of him. John Lee was doing a thing with Big Maceo and Tampa Red at that time when they heard Junior play. They liked Junior’s style and asked him to play along. It was Sonny Boy who told Wells to buy a Marine band harmonica.
Junior Wells in the Chicago Blues scene
Junior Wells was a young dog in the Chicago music scene. The world of blues musicians is small. Everybody met everybody, and they all played together. It must have been a friendly but competitive world because they all switched and changed bands, musicians jammed together and record together it was all in the game; play to pay the rent. Junior Wells was no exception. Like many others in the Chicago blues scene Wells met Little Walter and Muddy Waters. He was twelve and saw Muddy and Walter perform at the Union hall of Chicago. After a while Wells took the stage. Walter looked down on Junior and said “He gonna blow a Harmonica”, “A pip-squeak?“ Wells made eighty dollars in tips that night. The twelve year old youngster made quite made his mark that night. (Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers p. 179/184 by Kim Field)
As a youngster Wells played with many musicians in tavern bars around Chicago. He was part of Tampa Red’s, Memphis Slim’s band. The main persona of this blog went to a lot of houseparties on the southside. At one of those parties he met Dave and Louis Myers. Junior and the Myers started playing together in the Hollywood Rendezvous seven nights a week calling themselves the Aces. Two songs from the aces I like are: Junior’s Whoop and Man Downstairs.
When Little Walter made some big hits in the fifties, Wells got offered a job at Muddy band for a tour through the south. Junior went to Muddy, The Myers brothers went to Little Walter. Wells played Harmonica on the hit song ‘Mannish Boy’. The Myers became the steady jazzy backbeat of Little Walters live band.
Junior Wells Hoodoo Blues
My personal hightlight of Junior Wells recording career was Hoodoo Blues with Buddy Guy. Songs like We’re Ready. Good Morning Schoolgirl and Chitlin’ Con Carne are songs everybody should listen to. He has a great Harmonica sound on these tracks and above all a great rhythmic backing band. The album inspired many blues revival musicians like Eric Clapton and Paul Butterfield.
Chitlin’ Con Carne
Greatest songs Junior Wells
Junior Wells never made the fame other artist like Little Walter, Howlin’Wolf, Muddy Waters and James Brown had on the national Charts. He recorded a whole lot of great records, some with Buddy Guy, and other with Earl Hooker. Together with Hooker he recorded some rock ‘n boogie songs. I really like Lazy Mule, a combination of rock ‘n roll and the later on traditional Blues. Also Come on in this House is a must listen.
He was a true performed, even at an older age he knew how to make good music. If he was better produced an more managed he could have been the greatest blues singer of all time. In 1996 he released the acoustic album Come in My House. At older he age gave a great interview to Lincoln Beauchamp BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual
Read it here. For now: Let’s listen to this great and remember the fantastic Junior Wells.
Tracy Chapman with Junior Wells- Give Me One Reason
Interview with Junior Wells
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Interview
Junior Wells-What’d I Say