Thursday, February 16, 2012

Junior Wells and The Aces

Junior Wells and The Aces
Live In Boston 1966
Delmark 809

I can't think of any recordings of Junior Wells' that I don't have in my collection of blues harmonica greats. For me, this is a treasure, not because of it's pristine production values, but just the opposite. It is a live slice of Chicago blues, warts and all, as it existed in 1966. By this time in his career, The Aces had not been his band since he took over Little Walter's slot as the harp man in Muddy Waters' band in 1952 and Walter took the Aces on the road and into the studio. Brothers Louis (guitarist) and Dave Myers (bass), along with drummer Fred Below, became an important component in defining the Chicago brand of blues as much as the bands of Muddy and Howling Wolf did.

This is Junior Wells in his element, and is devoid of his James Brown jiving. His running patter with an appreciative Boston audience is helps provide a complete picture of this master at work. Most of the program consists of covers of blues tunes that are certainly considered "warhorses" by blues fans today, but
had not worn out their welcome yet in latter part of this decade. I doubt seriously if anyone cared that "Junior's Whoop" was a take off on Little Walter's "Mellow Down Easy", and the epiphany for me is listening to Louis Myers rip an extended solo on his six strings. Really solidifies just what a guitarist he was. That to me is the highlight of the entire proceedings...hearing The Aces tear it up on stage as a solid blues band following the sometimes unpredictable Wells. They follow-up this jumping, uptempo mood and get down in the alley with Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright", and when he hollers "somebody, somebody, somebody", he's calling out for Louis to lay his fingers on the strings for a sweet 12 bar solo.

Of course, Wells is not going to deny the audience a rendition of his hit, "Messin' With The Kid". He kicks butt on the song that has become a staple of blues bands since. The audience eats this one up and then Juniors' applies his signature licks to open Big Arthur Cruddup's "Look Over Yonder Walls". Anyone who is unfamiliar with Wells' harp style, replete with rapid fire runs, double stops, triple tonguing, and full, bent notes, need to look no further than what he gets going here.

"Man Downstairs" is simply a nice reworking of what Sonny Boy Williamson II warned about in his "One Way Out" and even though "If Your Gonna Leave Me" is credited to Wells', it is akin to Wille Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me". But that's all alright, because that's the way the blues was done back in the day. You borrowed from your friends, threw down your own lyrics and called it your own, and in some cases could claim it.

"Hideaway", of course, is a guitar highlight played by every blues guitarist worth his salt since Freddy King rip it out for King Records and Louis proves that he really knows his way around the fret board and brother Dave and Below drive it into submission and are each given some space to kick it. It does become a bit of a train wreck after Junior jumps in with his harp, but they right the ship before it ends.

Get this for a piece of blues history that has languished in Delmark Record's vault for way too long. This, my friends, is '60s era blues at its best.

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