The Hoodoo Man
February 22, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

"He was one bad dude, strutting across the stage like a harp-toting gangster, mesmerizing the crowd with his tough-guy antics and rib-sticking Chicago blues attack." - All Music Guide. He was also a sharp-dressing mofo who, at the end of his storied life, was buried in "his creaseless sky-blue silk suit and matching homburg, a shiny trove of harmonicas laid out beside him, a pint of gin nestled nearby to ease his journey home". In the opinion of many, he was the greatest blues harmonica player of all time.

Junior Wells' universally acknowledged masterpiece is his 1965 debut, Hoodoo Man Blues. More excellent early work is found on Blues Hit Big Town. Favorites among his later work include Drinkin' TNT 'n' Smokin' Dynamite - a live performance with Buddy Guy at the 1974 Montreux Blues Festival - and Come On In This House.

A January 1978 performance at The Bottom Line in New York City can be found here. (site is twitchy - be patient) And for specialists: his hippie cash-in "The Hippies Are Trying" is here.
posted by Joe Beese (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post. Thanks, Joe.
posted by box at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2009

I wish the kids were'nt watching sponge bob 4 feet from the computer right now -- I'll have to delve into this stuff after bedtime tonight.

It just occurs to me now that I have no Junior Wells in my iTunes, or on my CD rack. This fact is cause for action I think, although in my ignorance, I'd have said Little Walter was the real single great of the harmonica.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:58 PM on February 22, 2009

I'd have said Little Walter was the real single great of the harmonica.

I would have said Big Walter, at least this year; I change my mind from time to time. But I certainly would never mess with the Kid.
posted by RussHy at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2009

And I read the fpp thinking Joe was talking about Sonny Boy II, but Junior Wells is a great call and I'm looking forward to exploring a fascinating selection of links. Thanks
posted by MinPin at 1:53 PM on February 22, 2009

Yeah, Hoodoo Man Blues is one of my fave blues records, and the YouTube clips are great, but Little Walter is definitely more interesting and important historically; even Allmusic recognizes him as the king:

Who's the king of all postwar blues harpists, Chicago division or otherwise? Why, the virtuosic Little Walter, without a solitary doubt. The fiery harmonica wizard took the humble mouth organ in dazzling amplified directions that were unimaginable prior to his ascendancy. His daring instrumental innovations were so fresh, startling, and ahead of their time that they sometimes sported a jazz sensibility, soaring and swooping in front of snarling guitars and swinging rhythms perfectly suited to Walter's pioneering flights of fancy.

Junior Wells is great, but Little Walter set the standard.
posted by mediareport at 2:28 PM on February 22, 2009

I would never have gone to that Buddy Guy, Junior Wells show at the Bottom Line in 1978, but some girl I liked wanted to see it, so I took her. Man, I was pretty jaded and sick of blues by this time, but let me tell you, that was whipcracking good show, with both men playing like they actually meant it. Now, much as I like Junior Wells, and much as I'm not crazy about white blues players as a rule, I think Paul Butterfield was best -- black or white. Listen closely to the man. For sustained invention and sattention to detail, he has no equal.
posted by Faze at 3:09 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

And I read the fpp thinking Joe was talking about Sonny Boy II

Me too. But I love Junior too.

He did a great duet album with Buddy years ago called "Alone and Acoustic" that's just the two of them, well, alone & acoustic, and it's a damn good thing. Highly recommended.
posted by middleclasstool at 3:30 PM on February 22, 2009

Jr. Walker was one of the first blues concerts I ever went to and he did not disappoint. The room was rockin', big time. OMG this man could put on a show. Everyone left drenched in sweat and high on the blues. My blessings go out to you Junior. You made the world a better place for your presence. May we all be so blessed.
posted by caddis at 4:50 PM on February 22, 2009

Wells, not walker, but he was good too, although far less intense. I need some nun to switch my fingers for my poor proof reading. It's funny how the brain farts sometimes.
posted by caddis at 4:53 PM on February 22, 2009

That first link?

Fucking spiritual.
posted by captainsohler at 5:07 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sonny Boy II has shown up in a few comments here, so I'll link to this post I did on him (and his namesake, Sonny Boy I) a while back*. I'd also just add that I think Hoodoo Man Blues is just about the finest electric Chicago blues ever committed to tape. I never, ever get tired of hearing that record. Its raw spontaneity and controlled tension make it a timeless classic.

*sadly, several of those YT links are (surprise surprise) gone now
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:27 PM on February 22, 2009

I have Hoodoo Man on the original Delmark LP, and had the rare treat of splitting a bottle of cognac with Junior backstage one night. After a long pre-show of chatting about the blues, his partnership with Buddy etc, his career in general, I got about the best possible compliment I could have hoped for.

I wished him a good show, and as he walked out of the backstage area to go onstage , stopped and turned and looked at me, and said...

"Yeah?....Fuck You White Boy."

Standing out front later with some other players I was just a bit amused to see them holding their faces in their hands and shaking their heads.

"Lord....Junior is out there cursing on stage again" they all said.

I'd take a "fuck you" from Junior Wells before I would a "bless you" from a pope.
posted by timsteil at 7:36 PM on February 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

I learned how to play the harmonica from imitating Little Walter. He was an innovator and a lot of better players learned from him. But we don't need a list of "who's better than Junior Wells". He's one of the all-time greats and I use a lot of his licks when I play (being incapable of coming up with own). There's a lot of great players with different styles, even some white boys like Charlie Musselwhite and Magic Dick (interview about Whammer Jammer). Thanks for the post, Joe. where you goin' with that gun?
posted by sluglicker at 7:47 PM on February 22, 2009

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