Junior Wells Best 10 Blues Albums

Junior Wells was famous as a blues singer and harmonica player in the Chicago Blues scene and was hugely influenced by Little Walters harp playing style and replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters band. He was a regular collaborator with his contemporary, Buddy Guy, and spent much of the 70's touring with him and the Rolling Stones.

Junior Wells was born Amos Wells Blakemore Jr. on the 9th December 1932 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was initially taught how to play the harmonica by his cousin, Junior Parker, and he learned how to play the harmonica amazing well by the age of seven. After his mothers divorce he moved to Chicago where his apprenticeship and skills blossomed as he began to sit in with local bands and develop his own style, heavily influenced by Little Walters amplified harmonica playing.

His first recordings were at the precocious age of 19 when he replaced his mentor Little Walter in Muddy Water's band and he went on at the young age of 20 to become a bandleader.

He died on the 15th January 1998 of a heart attack in Chicago shortly after being diagnosed with cancer which had curtailed his performing and shortly before his brief appearance in The Blues Brothers 2000 was released.

The Junior Wells Story available on Amazon

Don't Start Me Talkin' - The Junior Wells Story
Don't Start Me Talkin' - The Junior Wells Story

The Junior Wells Story. Essential viewing

 

Don't Start Me Talkin' (DVD)

This is essential viewing for anyone wanting to know more about Junior Wells, this 88 minute documentary covers his beginnings and the second half kicks in with loads of music.

1. Hoodoo Man Blues

There's certainly no going past this album which was Junior Wells debut album with what was billed as his Chicago Blues Band and contains Buddy Guy although he couldn't be listed on the album for contractual reasons. Wells was given almost complete control of the album and provided an album that truly encapsulates the excitement of an evening in a smoky Chicago blues bar.

Along with many Wells orginals it includes superb covers of Sonny boy Williamsons "Good Morning Schoolgirl" along with more bizarrely Leiber and Stollers "Hound Dog"

Often cited by critics as one of the greatest blues albums ever released.

Hoodoo Man Blues available on Amazon

2. Southside Blues Jam

This was the album that Junior Wells himself considered his best work. This is a bunch of Chicago Blues luminaries enjoying themselves and playing the music that please them rather than worrying what the label wants them to play. Here you get the ubiquitous Buddy Guy along with Otis Spann, Fred Bellew and others.

This is extremely relaxed and relaxing and Wells never overplays his harp or overdoes the vocals. You get the time to enjoy these musicians enjoying playing the music and playing together. Standout tracks are probably "Its My Life Baby" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You"

Southside Blues Jam available on Amazon

3. Alone and Acoustic

Released in 1981 this could be seen as a precursor to the craze of "Unplugged" albums and it is simply outstanding. You get Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar and Junior Wells on his harmonica and 15 tracks of superb deep south blues.

A lot of the tracks are blues standards but the interpretation is fresh and new. Junior Wells take on "Big Boat" is just one of the highlights and would justify this album on its own, but then you get their version of "Boogie Chillen" followed by "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" to seal the deal.

Alone and Acoustic available on Amazon

4. Come on in This House

Released in 1996 and one of the last albums released while Junior Wells was alive this is an intriguing collaboration between blues legend Wells and a number of younger up and coming slide guitarists such as Alvin Youngblood Hart and Corey Harris.

Again the music is blues standards but the new interpretations are worth the pennies. This record is fun and there are no flash runs from these guys just understated blues that's for everyone.

Come on in This House available on Amazon

5. Blues Hit Big Town

This is a re-release of all the tracks that Junior Wells recorded in 1953-54 for Leonard Allen's States label, including previously unreleased alternate takes. These are Wells' first recordings, done shortly after he joined the Muddy Waters Band but are not just good for their historical value.

There is the slow, smoking "Hoodoo Man"and the rollicking "Cut That Out" along with the astonishing instrumentals "Eagle Rock" and "Junior's Wail".

Blues Hit Big Town available on Amazon

6. Coming at You

This album was originally released in 1968 but don't be fooled by the cover into thinking this is dippy trippy stuff this is still prime blues harmonica albeit with a bit more accompaniment in the shape of a horn section and a solid rhythm section than his earlier recordings.

Standout tracks are "So Sad This Morning", "Mystery Train" and "Five Long Years" although there isn't really a dud track among them.

Coming at You available on Amazon

7. On Tap

This Live record was first released in 1974 and has subsequently been reissued.It was recorded live in the Legendary Theresa's club at 4801 S. Indiana on Chicago's South Side at the start of the 70's and features Junior Wells and his band covering a lot of blues standards. Wells is as usual absolutely outstanding.providing blues with just a touch of Funk.

On Tap available on Amazon

8. It's My Life, Baby!

The second of Junior Well's releases for Delmark and after purchasing Hoodoo Man if you like Wells' early style then this is for you. This album is split half live recordings and half studio recordings. In terms of his highly regarded live albums the live tracks here are pretty special, there is great interaction between the band members, and, as usual, Buddy Guy is sublime

Standout track is probably "(I Got A) Stomach Ache".

It's My Life, Baby! available on Amazon

9. Live at the Golden Bear

This 1969 release is a live recording from Huntington Beach, California. The material is familiar blues "Fever," "My Babe," "I'm Ready," and "Please, Please, Please," With Wells imbuing each with his own flavour, using his growling voice and aggressive harmonica, This CD reissue remains true to the original recording giving it that extra authenticity as amplifiers peak and microphones feed back.

Buy this album to hear Junior Wells live at the peak of his form.

Live at the Golden Bear available on Amazon

10. Live at Theresa's 1975

This is a newer Live release of Junior Wells music but it should grow into a classic live blues recording because it gives you the heart of a great live blues performance: great music, great songs, and great patter. On the record, Wells is definitely in his element: laughing, joking, and working the room and the music is pretty fine as well.

Because this is a newer release the sound quality is probably better than most but still gives you the feel of a smoky blues club in Chicago

Live at Theresa's 1975 available on Amazon

Which do you reckon is Junior Wells Best Album?

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Comments 1 comment

Bert 5 years ago

Hello everybody! I come from Italy so, forgive me for my poor English and my mistakes!

Well, I've been playing the harmonica since I was 18 (now I'm 34) and, even if I also like obscure and almost unknown country players (Horace Sprott, Jaybird Coleman, Johnny Woods...) or "electric" Delta men like Frank Frost, Sam Myers or Willie Foster I'm a fan of the great Chicago harmonica! My favourite (I could call him my HERO!) is Rice Miller: I think he is the best blower of all times, before him and after too.

I think the only one who can race with him is Walter Horton.

Well, I'm crazy about Little Walter and many others, and one of my "gotha" players is Junior Wells. I call him the last of the old ones and the first of the new ones. I have almost everything by him and I agree with this selection, but not about ALONE AND ACOUSTIC and COME ON IN THIS HOUSE. He's always great, of course, but I don't like this attempt of re-read the old blues and I don't love the last acoustic Junior Wells, because on my opinion he was made for that urban, Southside style you can hear in the other albums like HOODOO MAN BLUES, LIVE AT THERESA'S, ON TAP, LIVE AT THE GOLDEN BEAR etc... The country style is not his one, but I repeat: this is my opinion. So I would put, Instead of ALONE AND ACOUSTIC and COME ON IN THIS HOUSE, other albums like BEST OF THE VANGUARD YEARS and LIVE IN BOSTON 1966, that capture the smoky hot atmosphere of the blues bars...

I love him when he plays the music he was born for. When he switches to the country blues he seems not to be in his environment. It's about the same thing as if Sonny Terry played in a rock band!

I like the red hot blues you can hear when he plays Juke or Love Her with a Feeling in Live at Theresa's, Hoodoo Man (both in the first Eagle recordings and in Hoodoo Man Blues) or Shotgun Blues . There's also an obscure version of Hoodoo Man Blues (I mean the tune), performed I think in 1972, that you can find in "Blues Harp Boogie - 25 Years of Blues Harmonica" a good collection where you can listen to this version, that on my opinion is the best he has ever recorded... I would have liked to see Junior on stage, but I was just a little baby when he still performed! I was lucky enough to listen to some blues once in Chicago and twice in Mississippi, where I tried to live (playing and, above all, listening) for a while what I only could read in the books and listen in my stereo.

So, I think this top ten is really good... I only expressed my opinion... that can be wrong.

Keep the blues alive!

Cheerio,

Bert

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