Sunday, November 07, 2010

Wells Live At Theresa's 1975 Caught Him in Prime Form.

I had the pleasure to see Junior Wells a number of times over the years. The first several times it was when he had his partnership with Buddy Guy while I was living in Buffalo. First time was with a fellow University of Buffalo grad student in Toronto at El Macombo. Somehow we got seats on the side of the stage (apparently my friend had a close resemblance to one of the members of Downchild) and it was a treat to see and hear the two with the band when it included A.C. Reed on saxophone. Later, there would be shows at the Belle Star in Colden, NY, in the hills west of Buffalo including one where Jeff Beck was in the audience. Junior sang his ass off for about two hours, and Buddy played his butt off too (Buddy was one of Jeff’s favorite guitarists). At the time, both were prominent figures in the blues world, but there were times when they would clown a bit. The night with Beck  in the audience (and he jammed with them the late second set), there there was just magic and no clowning.  At the time when they were back home in Chicago, they each had their own gigs. Junior held forth at Theresa’s, a neighborhood bar.

Back in 2006, Delmark issued some previously unissued live Junior Wells recordings from Theresa’s that was a wonderful surprise to the many fans of Wells as well as blues fans in general. Live At Theresa’s 1975, was taken from recordings made for broadcast on Chicago station WXRT-FM. Wells on this recording was supported by a band that included Phil Guy on guitar and Earnest Johnson bass. Both were regular members of Wells’ touring band when he joined with Buddy Guy around this time.

On the two dates from January 1975, Byther Smith or Sammy Lawhorn are also on guitar and Vince Chapelle or Levi Warren are on drums. There are some fine performances of songs that were staples of Wells’ repertoire until his death, such as Little By Little, Come On in This House, It Hurts Me Too, What My Mama Told Me and Messing With the Kid. Smith takes a vocal on Help the Poor from B.B. King’s repertoire. The music is solid, and there is plenty of banter from Junior including singing Happy Birthday to photographer Mark Pokemper and acting as Pokemper’s pitchman.  Junior and the band were in terrific form here.

With all the welcome publicity of the recent Junior Wells Live in Boston 1966 on Delmark, this disc should not be overlooked. It is as good and provides a sense of what Wells’ sounded like playing for a different audience then the college kids who saw him in 1966. It should also be relatively easy to find. When this came out, I selected this as among the outstanding blues CDs of 2006 and reviewed it in the December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 289) which I have modified for the current post.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I likely received the review copy from Delmark Records.

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