My trips to Chicago have generally been well timed, even if they have not been planned around anything but work, or a rare weekend where I have been free to travel somewhere of my own choice. On my last trip to Chicago, my luck continued to hold with the Tribute to Junior Wells at Rosa's Lounge. This two night event was held in conjunction with Mama Rosa's 18th Anniversary celebration of the opening of Rosa's, thanks to her son and the efforts/interest of...., you guessed it, Junior Wells.
This was the first of the two night show that featured six former members of Junior Wells band; Stevie Lizard (guitar), Albert Castiglia (guitar), Willie "Vamp" Samuals (bass), Vern "Sticks" Taylor (drums), Little Joe Burton (trombone), Douglas Fagen (tenor sax), accompanied on harp and vocals by Chicago blues legend, Billy Boy Arnold. The talent on stage was matched by the talent in the audience that included the immortal Pinetop Perkins, singer Otis Clay, Chicago harp player Matt Skoller and Junior Wells oldest daughter, Angela.
The band opened the show without Billy Boy Arnold as Albert Castiglia took care of vocals for the opening numbers. All of the members had a chance through the evening to demonstrate their enormous talents. Little Joe Burton blew a mean trombone, showing everyone why he had such a long tenure in Wells various backup bands, as did Douglas Fagen on sax. Among the less tenured members of the Wells alumni, Albert Castiglia was especially strong on guitar and vocals. Stevie Lizard proved himself to be an equally adept guitarist and Willie "Vamp" Samuals really layed down some strong bass lines, along with Vern Taylor on the drums. The band members gathered from all over the United States, from Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago. Once Billy Boy Arnold joined the band on stage, the show began to really feel like the spirit of Junior Wells was in the house as Arnold's harp blew down the house.
The show was definitely a tribute to Wells as the band followed with song after song made famous by Junior Wells. The Well's hit parade included songs like "Little By Little," "Hoodoo Man," "Help Me" and "Messin' With The Kid," among others. All in all, it was a fantastic evening of music with lots of fraternity and excitement as several of the band members saw each other for the first time in several years. It was also clear to everyone that Wells was a tremendous influence on all of the musicians, regardless of what instrument they played. With the great band and great show, it was a fantastic and memorable night.
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