Thursday, September 12, 2013

Junior Wells - Best of the Vanguard Years

Junior Wells started playing harmonica as a young child and had his first band as an early teenager. Having
moved to Chicago from Memphis, he was too young to play in the clubs, so he busked in the streets with his band, who were eventually picked up by Little Walter when he went solo. Wells then took over Walter's spot in Muddy Waters' band and his notoriety was ensured.

In these recordings he is joined by longtime foil Buddy Guy, who does some fantastic playing, as well as legendary drummer Fred Below, along with a variety of bassists and, at times, even some horn players. These songs were all cut in the mid-60's as Junior was making a name for himself with the white college blues-loving crowd, who he wowed with his showmanship, r'n'b power and harmonica artistry. Included are some of his best-known numbers, such as "Messin' With the Kid" (which Steppenwolf stole from him), "Early in the Morning", "Checking on My Baby", etc., though there is some amazing playing in lesser known tunes such as the live "It's My Life Baby", "Vietcong Blues", the funky groove of "Shake it Baby", the humorous scat singing in "(I Got a) Stomach Ache" (and chicken pickin' git playing by Guy), and the previously unreleased Sonny Boy Williamson's "Shotgun Blues" and "You Know That I Know".

While I wish that this collection didn't lean so heavily on live cuts (10 out of the 18), everything is still high quality blues by a hot band led by a dynamic performer.