Blues Bytes


August 2009

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Junior Wells
Hoodoo Man Blues
Delmark Records

Junior Wells

Hoodoo Man Blues was Junior Wells’ debut LP recording. Recorded for Delmark Records in 1965, it was one of the first LP’s devoted to Chicago blues and featuring a Chicago blues band. Up until that point, nearly all original blues recordings were done on 45s strictly for jukeboxes and radio play. Most of the LP sales leaned heavily toward the folk-blues sounds made popular in the early ’60s, so believe it or not, Chicago’s brand of blues was an unknown commodity as far as record sales went in the mid ’60s.

Bob Koester, owner of Delmark and Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart, really enjoyed the music, but was already operating on a shoestring budget with the recordings he had previously made with artists like Big Joe Williams and Sleepy John Estes. He wasn’t sure if the record-buying public would go for the new sound since it was so different from the folk-blues genre. He was also concerned about the extra expense of hiring sidemen, plus the additional studio time possibly required. However, he knew the music needed to be heard and decided to take the plunge.

For Hoodoo Man Blues, Koester allowed Wells to choose his own sidemen and his own material. Best of all, he allowed Wells to go beyond the usual three-minute limit required on 45s. This allowed the band to really focus on the music itself and not have to worry about cutting things short. For sidemen, Wells used familiar faces, including drummer Bill Warren, bassist Jack Myers, and his regular guitarist at the time, Buddy Guy. Guy was supposedly under contract with Chess Records at the time this was recorded, so Chess agreed to allow him to play as long as he didn’t sing or use his name, so he was forced to use a pseudonym (Friendly Chap).

The set list consisted of songs that you probably would have heard had you attended a regular Junior Wells gig at Theresa’s, so these were songs that the band was familiar with and it showed. Wells exuded confidence and swagger with his performances, such as “Snatch It Back and Hold It,” a funky James Brown-influenced number, or the blues standard, “Good Morning Schoolgirl.” Most of the songs appeared regularly on other Wells albums, but the definitive versions of “Hey Lawdy Mama,” and “Early In The Morning” can be found here.

Like most Chicago harmonica players that got their start in the early to mid ’50s, Wells was initially influenced by that song’s composer, John Lee “Sonny Boy I” Williamson, but he also was influenced by others like Little Walter Jacobs, Rice Miller (Sonny Boy II), and Junior Parker. His harmonica work was always a model of tasteful restraint, never overplaying and always finding the right note for the right spot.

The same can be said for Buddy Guy, at least on this session. His guitar work is nothing short of phenomenal on this set, with perfect fills and sharp, stinging leads. According to Koester, Guy had problems with his amp on a couple of songs, so his guitar was amplified through a Hammond B3 on a couple of tracks, which gives it a shimmering, sometime eerie feel, notably on the title track. It always seemed like teaming with Wells brought out the best in Buddy Guy and this disc provides ample proof.

The CD reissue of Hoodoo Man Blues includes a couple of bonus tracks, alternate takes of “Hoodoo Man Blues,” and the smooth instrumental, “Chitlins Con Carne.” In a reminiscence of Wells published a few years ago, Koester states that there were about 15 minutes of additional songs (including a Wells-Guy duet) that were accidentally erased, which is truly a shame, given the quality of what made the cut for the disc.

Hoodoo Man Blues is still Delmark’s biggest seller, some 40+ years after its release. It really paved the way for subsequent recordings by Wells, Guy, and other previously unknown or unheard Windy City bluesmen. Wells and Guy teamed up for several more recordings, most notably the Wells release on Vanguard, It’s My Life, Baby, a set recorded for Atlantic featuring the duo with Eric Clapton, Dr. John, and members of the J. Geils Band in tow, the European set Pleading The Blues (now on Evidence), and a couple of live sets recorded at Montreaux (one on Blind Pig, the other on Evidence). They also paired up for an acoustic set at Guy’s club, Legends, in 1993, which proved to be their last recording together.

However, many think their first pairing was their best, some thinking that Hoodoo Man Blues ranks with the best blues recordings of all.

--- Graham Clarke


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