Live At Theresa's 1975
For most of their 2006 blues releases, Delmark dug back into their
vaults. This essential disc from Junior Wells, Live At
Theresa's 1975, completes a hat trick that began with Otis
Rush’s All You Love I Miss Loving and Magic Slim/Joe Carter’s That Ain’t
Like the Rush CD, Live At Theresa’s was recorded by Ken Rasek,
and some of it was originally broadcast on Chicago’s WXRT radio station.
Live At Theresa’s may be the best of the three as it shows the friendly
and neighborly atmosphere of a 1970s Chicago ghetto blues club being
held at the helm by its commander.
The dignified CD is a testimony to a time when blues was a neighborhood
institution played by people who had grown up together. The music was
created as a means to free them of their pain. Bruce Iglauer recalls,
“(Theresa’s) had wood paneling on the wall, beer signs, and Christmas
tinsel wrapped around the overhead pipes 12 months a year.” There wasn’t
a bandstand or a PA system for the featured entertainment, who performed
Friday to Monday. It was only a dollar to get in and the drinks were
cheap. During Wells’ occupancy at Theresa’s Hole, the club owner herself
hired and paid the sidemen, so they weren’t officially his band. These
recordings were made January 10 and 13, 1975. On these two winter
evenings the hired help included Phil Guy (guitar), Byther Smith (guitar),
Sammy Lawhorn (guitar), Earnest Johnson (bass), Vince Chapelle (drums), and
Levi Warren (drums).
Live At Theresa’s is gritty and slick at the same time. It presents
traditional electric Chicago blues at its finest. What other art form
unashamedly describes life via lyrics like (“If you love your woman /
you love her with a thrill / because ifin’ you don’t / some other man
will”). Not much of the background noise has been filtered out. In fact,
you can hear the patrons in the background during the songs. All of
Wells’ in-between song banter has been left in, too. It displays his
charismatic interaction with his audience at the intimate 40-person
capacity club. The camaraderie is paramount, and is best displayed via
an impromptu Happy Birthday played in honor of Marc PoKempner’s “borning
For those who have followed Wells for years, these songs are like
a homecoming. Many of them came from his current album at the time – Delmark’s
On Tap. The weaving guitars of Guy and Smith interlock notes
on "Little By Little." Smith’s smooth vocals are given the lead on "Help
The Poor," while he continues to play single and succinct guitar notes.
Not surprisingly, "Juke" features the greatest amount of Wells’ harp which
rolls you down the street like a garbage can tossed about in the wind.
Guy slashes his strings on "Scratch My Back," and sounds like brother
Buddy on the rockin’ "What My Mama Told Me." The latter is a highlight due
to the guitar solos and harp solo. "Snatch It Back And Hold It" gets an
ultra funky rendition courtesy of Phil. Throughout, Junior is in his
element and having a great time, as on the mellow-paced "Goin’ Down Slow"
where he admits, “You’ll have to excuse me coz I’m drunk.”
Hoodoo Man Blues, by Junior Wells, was the first album to capture the
live Chicago blues band sound in the studio. If released in 1975, Live
At Theresa’s might have been the first live album to accurately capture
the live Chicago blues band sound in a club. Like Steve Tomashefsky’s
liner notes and Marc PoKempner’s photographs, the CD reveals both the
music and the culture. Though it doesn’t contain Wells’ best vocals and
the audio isn’t up to today’s standard, Live At Theresa’s is everything
a blues CD is supposed to be. Its analog album sound is raw, edgy, and
unpolished. Combined together, it’s the sweetest sound you’ll hear
because it’s all about an experience that cannot be replicated.
--- Tim Holek
Delmark Records outdid itself last fall when it released the sensational
1976 Wise Fools Pub appearance by Otis Rush. Their most recent effort,
Junior Well’s Live At Theresa’s 1975 is easily a release of equal
magnitude, capturing the Chicago legend on his home turf with a crack
supporting band in tow.
As with the Rush performance, Ken Rasek recorded this appearance for
Chicago radio station WXRT (as part of their “Un-concert“ series), and
the recording is as good and sometimes better than the Rush show,
capturing the essence, if not the actual imagery, of a regular night at
Theresa’s, where Junior Wells held court for nearly 30 years.
Wells’ band consisted of Sammy Lawhorn and Byther Smith on guitar, along
with Nate Applewhite on drums and Ernest Johnson on bass. To add some
stability and polish to the proceedings, which were recorded over two
nights (January 10 & 13, 1975), Wells brought in guitarist Phil Guy (a
mainstay of the Junior Wells/Buddy Guy touring band at the time) to sit
in. Applewhite wasn’t able to play during these dates, so Levi Warren
and Vince Chapelle split time on drums.
The set list was familiar fare to Wells fans at the time. Several songs
appear from his On Tap album, which Delmark had released the previous
year. He opens the proceedings with his classic “Little By Little,”
followed by the funk workout “Snatch It Back And Hold It.” Over the
years, some fans found Wells’ James Brown imitations tiresome, but there
have always been claims by people who were there that Junior Wells was
doing James Brown long before the Godfather of Soul was.
A memorable reading of “Love Her With A Feeling” (one of the On Tap
songs) is followed by a blistering version of Little Walter’s “Juke.”
Phil Guy and Byther Smith complement each other well during the first
half of the disc and Smitty gets his moment in the spotlight with a
vocal on B. B. King’s “Help The Poor.”
Sammy Lawhorn takes over on guitar for Smith for the second half of the
disc and it consists of several Wells standards, such as “Come On In
This House,” “What My Mama Told Me,” “Key To The Highway,” and a lengthy
version of “Goin’ Down Slow.” Lawhorn was a brilliant talent who never
reached his full potential due in part to substance abuse problems, but
he acquits himself very well here.
Sprinkled throughout the recording is Wells’ chatter and teasing with
the regulars. Theresa’s would only hold about 40 people, so it was
definitely an intimate gathering place of familiar faces. Wells even
stops to sing “Happy Birthday” to Marc PoKempner, a photographer who was
a Theresa’s regular (and whose photos are included in the excellent
liner notes compiled by Steve Tomashefsky).
Live At Theresa’s 1975 could be described as a vital document that
preserves an image of days gone by in Chicago (Theresa’s closed down in
the early ’80s, with owner Theresa Needham dying in 1992 and Wells
passing in 1998), but it’s also a remarkable listening experience that
fans of Chicago Blues will definitely enjoy. Let’s hope Delmark can get
their hands on more of these recordings in the future.
--- Graham Clarke