Blues Hit Big Town
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Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon & many others join Wells on this United Records session from 1953-54, including 5 bonus tracks added to the original 12.
The long-overdue release of this seminal collection on CD is cause for celebration; not only that, but Delmark Records added four previously unreleased tracks, making this CD all the more essential for harp fans in general and Junior Wells fans in particular (and what harp fan could not like Wells?). The tracks on Blues Hit Big Town were recorded in 1953-54 and are thus of historical interest as well; these are Wells's first recordings, done shortly after he joined the Muddy Waters Band. From the slow, smoking "Hoodoo Man" and the title track, to the tight, high-powered "Cut That Out" and "Tomorrow Night," everything here is first-rate, and the added bonus tracks make this re-release a special treat. --Genevieve WilliamsSee all Editorial Reviews
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Junior Wells' first LP came out more than ten years later, in 1965, but these tough early singles, taped when Junior was Muddy Waters' harmonica player, are at least as seminal. Junior's sublime first reading of "Hoodoo Man" is here, alongside a rollicking "Cut That Out", a lean, mean "Please Throw This Poor Dog A Bone", the swinging "Tomorrow Night", and the blazing instrumentals "Eagle Rock" and "Junior's Wail".
Junior's rendition of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "'Bout The Break Of Day" is every bit as powerful as "Hoodoo Man" (another Williamson-number) and he sounds thoroughly menacing on the grinding title track.
As well as playing with Muddy Waters, Junior Wells was the lead singer of the Aces for a while, a group which consisted of brothers Louis and Dave Myers on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer extraordinaire Fred Below. They back him on most of these recordings, and Johnnie Jones lends his considerable talents on piano on the 1953 sides.
And the great Elmore James appears as well, wielding his smouldering bottleneck on the master take of "Hoodoo Man". Piano player Otis Spann from the Muddy Waters band is rolling the 88s on the 1954 recordings, and Waters himself shows up as well, backing Wells on guitar.
These early recordings are some of Junior Wells' finest and grittiest, and while his blistering harmonica playing was often more or less absent on his 60s and 70s waxings, it takes centre stage on these superb 50s singles.
What this record shows primarily, is that even in his late teens, Junior Wells was an astounding harp player. On this record, Junior plays stuff that easily ranks among the finest harp ever laid down. His singing is also good, though his voice has not yet taken on the grittiness that would eventually make him one a the great blues singers.
The music on this album is some truly great Chicago blues. Whether on the original take of the classic "Hoodoo Man," the great instrumental "Eagle Rock," or the down in the alley sound of "Please Throw This Poor Dog A Bone," Junior's music runs the gamut of great Chicago sound.
The bottom line: another excellent entry into Junior Wells' library. Though not quite the perfection he would achieve on "Hoodoo Man Blues," it's pretty close, and a more than worthy addition to any blues fan's collection.
HOODOO MAN is the best cut with a tremendous harp solo and the exciting addition of Elmore James' slide guitar to Juniior's band.
The Sonny Boy Williamson influence is strongly felt, especially on CUT IT OUT, one of Sonny's own tunes, but the addition of amplified harp makes this side even more exciting than the original.
The Myers' brothers were the perfect accompanists to Junior. Dave's guitar leads are very exciting, especially on OH YEAH. There's also two audition cuts with Junior playing unamplified to Dave's acoustic guitar, and the finished amplified versions of the tunes are included.
It's too bad that Junior starting playing regularly with Buddy Guy, who really wasn't an accompanist but a great solo artist himself.
Even worse, Junior started mugging his lyrics as time went on, so that by the time he recorded with Sam Charters his vocal style had deteriorated considerably (though his harp tone was still among the best in the business).
This is Junior's very best album, and if you enjoy Little Walter, Walter Horton, and James Cotton, you'll adore Junior's playing. Comparisons among talents like these four are odious, but I think Junior was the best, even better than Little Walter at his best.