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CD Review
Junior Wells
"Blues Hit Big Town"
Delmark Records DD-640
by Tony Glover
There were a couple of "child prodigy" harpmen in the early days of Chicago Blues. Little Walter was playing the street by age 14, cut his first record at 17 and soon after was a full time member of Muddy Waters band. Junior Wells first sat in with Muddy when he was 14, and was working steady with The Aces by age 16. When Walter left Muddy after his "Juke" became a runaway hit, he hired The Aces as his backup band, and Wells went to work with Muddy, recording the classic "Standing Around Crying" with him in the fall of 1952. Next June, Wells had his first session as leader, for the States label, he was 18.

That first session produced some classic blues, and were good examples of Wells at his peak--back when he cared more about playing blues than coming off like some velvet clad James Brown gangster clone. Tracks such as "Hoodoo Man", "Cut That Out", and "Juniors Wail" hold their own with the best of the genre today. Wells sings with passion (and without the clicks and snorts that got so annoying later on in his career), and plays with a fierce but sweet-singing tone. Backing him on the first session were The Aces, augmented by Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson, and on "Hoodoo" by the stinging slide guitar of Elmore James. The second session took place in April 1954, Wells was AWOL from the army at the time. Here, on tracks like the title cut and "Lord Lord" he's backed by several men from Muddy's band, and again the result is some top notch Chicago sound.

This CD reissue of the original Delmark album has been long awaited, and the pot is sweetened with the addition of 3 alternate takes (including two instrumentals) and a couple of demo numbers with Wells backed only by guitar and playing acoustic harp, these are a real treat, and head and shoulders above that acoustic album with Buddy Guy a few years back. What made Wells great? The answer is here.

This review is copyright 1998 by Tony Glover, all rights reserved.

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