Hoodoo Man Blues
Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band
Delmark Records – November 1965
Missed, at the time, amongst the debut albums of 1965 for future music luminaries like Cher, Tom Jones, the Who, and the Lovin’ Spoonful was a seminal recording in Chicago on the tiny Delmark label by Junior Wells. It was termed “dead on arrival” after its release and panned by critics as having no commercial value. But today I, and many others, consider it one of the great blues albums of all time.
The album featured two musicians that had been working together off and on since 1958. Junior, a blues harpist with a voice, and Buddy Guy, a talented if some offbeat (for the times) guitarist, had both been pulled into orbit around the brightest star of the 1950’s blues, Muddy Waters. Junior had been the first replacement for Little Waters in Muddy’s band back in 1952 and had spent the ensuing years honing his style in the rough and tumble world of the Chicago blues. Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records, believed in Junior and told him to assemble a band of studio musicians of his choice and just play like he did in the clubs without the “3 minute” constraint that dominated the radio waves. Buddy, signed by Muddy’s label, Chess records, had to use the pseudonym, Friendly Chap, just to be able to perform on the disc. It was to be the first of 12 records that they worked on together over the next thirty years.
The songs on the album are straight forward electric and harp blues. Junior does a stellar 4 minute version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl including an intro displaying his virtuosity on the harmonica. The title cut, Hoodoo Man Blues, is a reworking of a Sonny Boy tune that Junior almost didn’t record because of its past rejection by other labels. Junior’s vocal style, somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf and Magic Sam, and his relaxed laughing manner as he sings carry the tune and the album. He and Buddy do a jamming version of a traditional tune also done by Sonny Boy, Early in the Morning, that is simply badass blues! And Well’s tune, In the Wee Wee hours, is a slow grindin’ blues showcase for Junior’s harp and Buddy’s blues licks as is the more upbeat Hey Lawdy Mama and the instrumental We’re Ready (written by Buddy). Throw in a nice cover of Elmore James’ version of Yonder Wall, a blues version of Hound Dog, and the often covered Chitlins Con Carne instrumental and you have one of first albums “to fully document the smoky ambience of a night at a West side nightspot in the superior acoustics of a recording studio”, according to Bill Dahl of Allmusic.
Junior’s career was to rise and fall over the ensuing years up to his death in 1998. He recorded and played on over 40 albums but his first was an enduring legacy inspired by nothing more than the desire to get some friends together and play the blues…..HELL YEAH!