Born: December 9, 1934 in Memphis TN
Died: January 15, 1998 in Chicago IL
Known to blues fans as the "Godfather of the Blues," Junior Wells was able to grab an audience by the ears and take them on a musical roller-coaster ride with his unique spin on the classic Chicago blues sound. Often performing alongside guitarist Buddy Guy, Wells enjoyed a lengthy career that spanned 50 years, his staggering harp solos and vocal interplay defining the Chicago blues harp sound at a time when the music was still shedding its country roots, taking the music to new heights of critical acclaim and commercial acceptance.
The Young Bluesman:
Born Amos Blackmore in Memphis, Tennessee, Wells was raised on the other side of the Mississippi River in West Memphis, Arkansas. Wells learned the fundamentals of blues harp from another soon-to-be-legend, Junior Parker, before moving to Chicago in 1946 at the age of 12 with his mother.
An often-repeated story of Wells' youth tells of the young bluesman seeing a $2.00 harmonica in a store. Since he only had $1.50 in his pocket, Wells laid his money on the counter, grabbed the harp and ran. Wells was soon caught by the police, but after the judge heard him play the instrument, he allegedly handed the shop owner the 50-cent balance and told Wells to be on his way.
Taking Chicago By Storm:
Upon arriving in Chicago, Wells hooked up with guitarists Louis and David Myers, playing house parties and infrequent club dates as the Three Deuces. They later changed their name to the Three Aces, and finally just the Aces with the addition of drummer Fred Below. In a strange turn of events, when Little Walter quit Muddy Waters' band in 1952, Wells was the harp player that took his place. Little Walter subsequently hooked up with the Aces to launch his own solo career.
A year after Wells joined Waters' band, he was drafted into the army, but he went AWOL shortly afterwards. Wells returned to Chicago, played with Waters and recorded some songs of his own for the States label. Wells eventually fulfilled his military duties and was discharged in 1955. After his brief army career, Wells performed for a while with Waters, and then re-formed a version of the Aces and began touring the country.
Junior Wells & Buddy Guy:
Wells began playing with legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy in 1958, forming a creative partnership that would last better than 20 years. Wells became a favored performer at Theresa's Lounge, Chicago's premier blues hotspot, and backed up Guy on his recordings as well as recording a few singles of his own for small labels like Profile and Chief. In 1966, Wells and Guy would make blues history, recording Wells' solo debut, Hoodoo Man Blues for Delmark Records.
Wells' debut album launched a successful career that would roll until the harp player's death in 1998. His raucous, no-holds-barred playing style appealed to young 1960s blues-rock fans, and Wells would later perform his inspired mix of Chicago-styled blues, R&B, and soul alongside rockers like Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. Wells even lent his talents to southern rap band Arrested Development.
Although he only recorded sporadically during the 1980s, in 1990 Wells teamed up with fellow harp masters James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch to record the critically-acclaimed Harp Attack! album. Wells' recorded output in the '90s suffered from the artist's lack of commitment, but his final album - 1997's Come On In This House - won Wells a W.C. Handy Blues Award for Traditional Blues Album. Wells also had a cameo appearance in the film Blues Brothers 2000, which was released after his death.
Recommended Albums: Widely considered one of the blues' genre's greatest albums, Hoodoo Man Blues is the first stop in examining the immense talents of Junior Wells.
Other Notable Junior Wells Recordings
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