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Fricke's Picks: Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, the Original Blues Brothers

POSTED:
buddy guy junior wells circa 1960
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
Herb Snitzer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Louisiana-born guitarist Buddy Guy was deep into his first prime – a killer sideman at the Chess studios in Chicago, electrifying singles for Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, while issuing classics under his own name ("Let Me Love You, Baby," "First Time I Met the Blues") – when he played on a two-day session in September 1965 for singer-harp player Junior Wells. Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark) was Wells' debut LP. Another Waters alumnus, Wells had cut the original early-Sixties versions of "Messin' With the Kid" and "Little By Little," both British-blues-revival standards.

Hoodoo Man Blues – released in 1966, now reissued with an extra half-hour of outtakes and studio banter – would be the start of a long creative friendship. Guy and Wells recorded and toured together until the latter's death in 1998, opening shows for the Rolling Stones and making one album, 1972's Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play the Blues, with Eric Clapton and the J. Geils Band. But Hoodoo Man Blues remains a stunning document of first-encounter magic, a robust fusion of Guy's spearing Stratocaster tone and zigzag attack and Wells' growling soul and exultant-foghorn harp breaks. Delmark founder Robert Koester produced the album like a late-night club set: a mix of Wells originals ("Snatch It Back and Hold It," the slow grief of "Ships on the Ocean") and working-band covers, taped quick, in live takes, with a meaty rhythm section (bassist Jack Myers and drummer Billy Warren). The result was even more history: the first studio-LP document of electric Chicago at its peak, the way it was on the best stages in town, every night.  Half a century later, it still sounds like living blues.

Buddy and Junior Unplugged
You need Hoodoo Man Blues. You also deserve Buddy and the Juniors, a relaxed down-home detour – acoustic and improvised – that Guy and Wells recorded in one day, December 18th, 1969, with jazz pianist Junior Mance. Issued in 1970 by Blue Thumb Records and deservedly back in print, Buddy and the Juniors (Hip-O Select) came about when then-fledgling producer Michael Cuscuna tried to rustle up some dough to finish a Guy project for Vanguard (the label refused to pay for the star's plane ticket to a mixing session) by booking a fast cheap session with the two Juniors.

What came out is at once gritty and warm: kindred souls strolling with grins and limber funk through tunes by Arthur Crudup, Willie Dixon and Eddie Boyd. The long opening tracks – "Talkin' 'Bout Women Obviously," "Riffin' a.k.a A Motif Is Just a Riff" – were actually the last to go to tape: easy-going jams and spirited vocal exchanges that, at another time, on someone's porch, might have turned into songwriting. Here, the vibe they leave behind is reward enough.

I can recommend Buddy and the Juniors without reservation, because I bought it when it first came out, after reading Ed Leimbacher's enthusiastic review in Rolling Stone. What you don't get in this reissue: the original black-and-white-marbled vinyl. You'll have to settle for the picture in the CD booklet.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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