Thursday, September 01, 2011

Junior Wells' Classic Hoodoo Man Blues Receives Expanded Edition

It was fall of 1967 that I picked up a monaural vinyl album by Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues on Delmark at a downtown Cleveland record store. It was one of those albums that helped me an enthusiast of blues music and a fan of Mr. Wells. Hoodoo Man Blues has long been acknowledged as a classic of the post-war Chicago blues and has been honored as a Grammy® Hall of Fame Inductee. It has been reissued several times including on CD, but Delmark has just reissued it again in a deluxe new expanded edition that includes a number of previously unissued tracks with some studio patter added in. Also included with the digi-pak packaging is a booklet that contains the original liner notes, the added notes for a prior CD release and new comments from Bob Koester along with many previously unpublished photos from the session.

The original release especially holds up sounding as contemporary and vital as ever. The session was engineered by Stu Black who did some Chess sessions one really can appreciate what a superb job he did on the two track stereo tapes the sessions were recorded with. The clarity that allows Buddy’s chords and fills to ring clearly even when at a subdued volume as well as the shimmer of Billy Warren’s cymbals (especially the wonderful rendition of In the Wee Wee Hours) and the at times guitar-like bass lines of Jack Myers. Of course Junior is front and center with some of the best vocals and harp playing he ever recorded.

Koester notes that this was the first recording of “a working Chicago blues band recorded in the studio for lp release with no 45 rpm singles planned and the artists given full freedom as to the running time of the tracks.” Its something they did not realize at the time when they did the session. As many know, Buddy Guy was listed under the pseudonym Friendly Chap on early releases of the album. It was the name suggested by Pete Brown, a British kid who worked at Koester’s Jazz Record Mart, and used because they thought Buddy was under contract to Chess. And there is the use of a Hammond B-3 Leslie speaker by Buddy Guy. It seems that their was an issue with Buddy’s guitar amp, and engineer Stu Black wanted to get the session rolling so he wired Guy into that speaker until Guy’s amp could be repaired. It certainly lent a distinctive tone to Wells’ rendition of Hoodoo Man Blues.

What a terrific band and the reissue contains the twelve tracks that appeared on vinyl followed by alternates of In the Wee Wee Hours, Hoodoo Man Blues, and Kenny Burrell’s Chitlins Con Carne, (that have been previously reissued) and three alternates of Yonder Wall. The two renditions of In the Wee Wee Hours, on which Junior plays chromatic, may have his strongest harp playing, a real nice vocal and solid drumming with nice cymbal work There is a new tune as well, “I Am Stranded,” a Jimmy Reed-styled number credited to Guy. An enjoyable performance but not as strong as the other songs, and the alternates are very good, but one would be hard-pressed to find any of them superior to the issued tracks. Minor bits of studio chatter are also included by probably will be ignored after the first times one listens to this.

Delmark is to be thanked for this expanded Hoodoo Man Blues. The additional material is a nice addition to the original classic album and listening to this one appreciates just how classic that album was. With the wonderful packaging, terrific sound and of course the timeless blues performances, this is an essential blues recording.

I received my review copy from the record company.

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