Blues Bytes


October/November 2011

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Junior Wells
Hoodoo Man Blues
Delmark Records

Junior Wells

Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues was the first studio recording to capture a live Chicago blues band sound. The album was recorded in Chicago on September 22 and 23, 1965. Now this definitive Chicago blues album has been remastered and re-released with previously unissued session recordings. It is well known that Buddy Guy played guitar on these sessions. Yet the first 7,000 pressings of the album contained the pseudonym Friendly Chap for Guy because producer Bob Koester thought Guy was under contract to Chess Records. The remaining musicians were Jack Myers on bass and Billy Warren on drums.

There are glimpses into the guitar prowess Buddy Guy would become known for when he frenetically plays on “Ships On The Ocean.” “Good Morning Schoolgirl” is a raw and dirty sounding version which the British Invasion bands could never replicate. It sounds very basic yet it’s played with more attitude and grit than you can imagine. The vocals are very distinct – unlike many of Wells’ live recordings – and the phrasing is hip. “Hey Lawdy Mama” and “Early In The Morning” are also definitive versions of songs that have been copied and duplicated but never completely replicated.

These are just a few reasons why this recording is so revered among fans, enthusiasts, collectors, and musicologists alike. Nine years after Elvis did a rock ‘n’ roll version of it and introduced white kids to blues, Wells turns Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 hit “Hound Dog” into a harp blowout. Wells may never have been a harp supremo like Little Walter or Big Walter but his performance on “In The Wee Wee Hours” is brilliant. It’s loaded with emotion and tones that extracts the listener to a whole new sanctum away from the turmoil of 1960s Chicago for black America. The guitar on the title track sounds more like a synthesizer/organ because Guy played through a Hammond B3 Leslie speaker. You’ll love the authentic laughing that’s contained within the vocals. These guys were having a blast.

You can smell the smoke and whiskey when you hear the animated instrumental “We’re Ready.” This is what Chicago blues clubs were sounding like at the time. It shows the friendly and neighborly atmosphere of a 1970s Chicago ghetto blues club being held at the helm by its commander.

The previously unissued tracks are mostly disappointing. Seven of the tracks are actually just studio chatter which only last a few seconds. There are also three alternate takes of “Yonder Wall.” Well, how many versions of “Yonder Wall” are needed on a single release? “I Ain’t Stranded” sounds like it was recorded at another session. The alternate version of “In The Wee Wee Hours” was previously released as “This Is The Blues” on This Is The Blues Harmonica. The remaining extras – alternates of the title track and “Chitlins Con Carne” – do not add anything to the greatness of the original release.

Yet, this is still an all-time classic album. Each song contains wailing harp from the man who ruled Theresa’s at the time and obviously ruled these recording sessions. Tracks from Hoodoo Man Blues have been used in several motion pictures, TV programs and commercials. The album has been Delmark’s best seller since its 1965 release and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. Wells fanatics will want this new reissue regardless of how many previous copies of the disc they already own. If you don’t own a copy of this brilliant CD yet, this is the version to get.

--- Tim Holek


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