While the Pick Hit section of Blues Bytes is usually reserved for
new releases, a reissue will generally come along once a year which merits top honors for
the month. This month's choice is Junior Wells' Blues Hit Big Time (Delmark), a
collection of the Chicago harmonica player's first recordings. Wells was still in his
teens when these tracks were cut in 1953 and 1954 for United Records. Arguably, the music
on this disc represent the pinnacle of his recording career.
Wells was backed by some of the biggest names in Chicago blues history on these two sessions: Elmore James, Louis Myers, Dave Myers, Fred Below, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Johnnie Jones, Willie Dixon, and Odie Payne, Jr. Anyone would sound decent in front of these guys, much less an artist of the stature of Junior Wells.
The CD starts with two of Wells' signature tunes, "Hoodoo Man" and "Cut That Out." Both of these songs have been covered many times since then, but no versions capture the raw emotion of the originals. Another all-time favorite of mine is "Blues Hit Big Town."
Junior was criticized in later years for ignoring his harmonica work in lieu of too much on-stage shuckin' and jivin'. But on this CD he shows why he had the reputation as one of the greatest harmonica players ever. Wells had at the time just replaced Little Walter in The Muddy Waters Band, and came close to Walter's harp prowess. The instrumental number "Eagle Rock" shows just how great a harmonica player Wells was during the glory days of Chicago blues.
Blues Hit Big Town also contains a number of previously-unreleased alternate cuts. Most notable are two cuts from an audition tape made with Louis Myers, with excellent rough versions of "Please Throw This Poor Dog A Bone" and "Can't Find My Baby," the latter containing great chromatic harmonica playing.
This CD belongs in any decent blues collection. It's one of the best of all time.
- Bill Mitchell
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