Blues Bytes


December 2014

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Junior Wells
Southside Blues Jam
Delmark Records

Junior Wells

Junior Wells recorded his first album, Hoodoo Man Blues, for Delmark Records in 1965. That album went on to achieve legendary status for blues fans all over the world, and deservedly so. It also led to Wells releasing additional albums for labels like Vanguard and Mercury Records (on their Blue Rock subsidiary) over the next couple of years. After those releases, Wells was about to sign with Atlantic in 1969, but before he did, he approached Delmark’s Bob Koester about recording another album.

Recorded in December of 1969 and January of 1970, Southside Blues Jam is one of the underappreciated gems in Wells’ catalog. His intention was to go into the studio and basically jam with his working band at the time. As with Hoodoo Man Blues, Koester wanted to capture the feeling and atmosphere of a typical Junior Wells set at Theresa’s Lounge, considered by many as the premiere Chicago club for over 30 years, and where Wells and his band played regularly.

Wells’ regular band at the time included Buddy Guy and Louis Myers (guitars), Earnest Johnson (bass), and Fred Below (drums). Just stop and read the previous sentence again. Take that in for just a minute. What a line-up! Now add Otis Spann on piano, who Wells invited to perform the night before the session. These proved to be Otis Spann’s last recordings (he died in April, 1970).

The original album included eight tracks, with Wells’ covering or performing variations of tunes previously done by his mentor Sonny Boy Williamson II (“Stop Breaking Down” and “In My Younger Days”), Muddy Waters (“Just Make Love To Me” and “Long Distance Call”), Memphis Slim (“Lend Me Your Love”), and Guitar Slim (“Trouble Don’t Last”). The final tune featured vocals from Guy, whose guitar work is fierce and imaginative throughout. Say what you will about Guy over the years, but Junior Wells always brought out the best in him and this disc is no exception.

Two of the tracks on the original release feature improvised lyrics from Wells, who did this regularly during his live (and occasionally in the studio) performances. “I Could Have Had Religion” starts out as one song and ends up as another, where he laments the recent calamities that had befallen several fellow blues artists (Magic Sam’s death, Muddy Waters’ car accident, Howlin’ Wolf’s recent heart attack). The completely spontaneous transition, along with Wells’ heartfelt delivery, makes for a powerful and emotional performance.

“Blues For Mayor Daley” follows the same pattern. It begins with Wells singing about his birth, when he started playing the blues, and his influences, but he soon begins singing about what makes up the blues, the power, the passion, the camaraderie, and the heart and soul that go into it, and before the song is over, he’s inviting the Mayor to come to Theresa’s to experience it all of it himself.

Delmark’s recently reissued version of Southside Blues Jam includes seven selections that weren’t on the original release. Al Duncan’s “It’s Too Late Brother,” originally done by Little Walter, is a loose-limbed number driven by Wells and Louis Myers’ guitar. “Warmin’ Up” is a snippet of Guy and Spann (who is excellent as always during these sessions) jamming together. “I Could Have Had Religion” is present as an alternate take, and there’s also a clip of Wells’ and Myers studio banter. Waters is acknowledged on a cover of his own “Rock Me,” and the original “Love My Baby.” “Got To Play The Blues” is another fun improvised jam, complete with impressions of Howlin’ Wolf, Sam Cooke, Tampa Red, and Albert King.

What really stands out on all of these tracks is the rock-solid bond between Wells and his band. The term “well-oiled machine” gets used to death, but no other term applies here. This group works almost as if they are one mind, even on the made-up-on-the-spot numbers. Wells sang about love and brotherhood being essential parts of the blues on “Blues For Mayor Daley,” but the band verifies that those qualities are as essential to the blues as this expanded release should be to blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke
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