by Karen Hanson
Junior Wells was everything I expected. I expected funk, and as Buddy Guy says, it was so funky you could smell it. I expected that I wouldn't understand much of what Junior was singing, and I didn't. I expected him to throw in a liberal dose of "g-d's"; he did. And I expected he wouldn't blow much harp; he didn't.
Yet "The Godfather of the Blues," as Junior calls himself, was a solid night of entertainment. Junior's band is big: two guitars, keyboards, drums, trombone, tenor sax, trumpet. The trombonist, dressed to kill in a white suit, purple shirt, matching tie and suspenders, did the talking for the group. The band played two funky (and nearly identical) instrumentals, and each musician got a chance to be introduced and solo. As the third song began, the trombonist introduced Junior, but Junior was nowhere to be seen, and he hadn't been seen all evening. The crowd applauded enthusiastically but looked around worriedly.
Suddenly his voice came out of nowhere, slowly and soulfully singing Crudup's "That's All Right." Junior's small (about 5 feet tall, maybe 100 lbs.), so I thought maybe I just couldn't see him over the crowd. Then, dramatically, he emerged from the back room, singing into a wireless mike, and made his way onto the stage.
Did I say the trombonist was dressed well? Well, he didn't have nuthin' on Junior! Junior was wearing a white suit with a matching wide-brimmed, white hat. He removed his jacket almost immediately to reveal a light red shirt with white collar and cuffs, red suspenders and a very long tie. And he had gold everywhere--several neck chains, cufflinks, a wide-band watch. He sparkled.
And then the funk began. He sang intensely and freely, occasionally punctuating his verses with short, inconsequential harp licks. He was obviously enjoying himself and the efforts of his band. Toward the end of the set he involved the crowd, inviting them to sing along on "The Blues is Alright."
During his final number, he grabbed the wireless mike again and walked off the front of the stage. Crouching behind him, following, was a staff security man who was quite a bit larger than Junior. When Junior took an unexpected right turn into the crowd, the security man took after in a mad duck walk, but couldn't really fit the places Junior could. To his relief, Junior's foray didn't last too long, and he was soon safely in the back room.
Junior's latest CD, which had been recorded live at Legends several months earlier, will soon be available. Unlike his previous CD, Come On In This House, which featured a myriad of guest guitarists playing more traditionally-oriented blues, this latest CD continues Junior's James Brown-inspired journey as the "Godfather of the Blues."