may 2012

hoodoo man blues

‘They Made the Music. We Sat and Dug It.’

By David McGee

Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band with Buddy Guy
Delmark Records

In case anyone missed this when it was reissued this past August, Junior Wells’ classic 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues belongs in any serious blues collection. Since its release credible critics have proclaimed it one of the best, if not the best, blues album of all time; even if you suggest this or that alternative for the honor, Hoodoo Man Blues is an undisputed monumental album that both honors the raw, unvarnished blues of Chicago’s South Side and suggests the blues-rock fusion that lay ahead, from Paul Butterfield to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, deliver a live, astounding version of ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’

When discovered by Delmark founder Bob Koester (who updates his liner notes from the original release for this expanded edition) and blues historian/producer Sam Charters, Wells had recorded for a few small labels but was making more of a name for himself as the gifted blues harp man who replaced Little Walter in the Muddy Waters band. To his credi (he was battling his own misgivings about the commercial viability of this project), Koester brought Wells into the studio with his regular band (Jack Myers on bass, Billy Warren on drums, and a guy they identified as Friendly Chap on guitar, who was in fact Buddy Guy, who was believed, incorrectly, to be under contract to Chess, hence the clever pseudonym) and let them do what they were doing in the clubs. No hype—the result is so startling, even to this day, you can only imagine what an impact it made on those who were listening to it go down in the studio. Which must have evaporated all concerns about there being no cuts suitable for radio airplay or single release. If the album featured only the sinister, shimmering moan of Wells’s harp and the trebly, staccato stabbing of Guy’s guitar that defines most of the unadulterated malevolence suffusing “In the Wee Wee Hours,” Hoodoo Man Blues would be regarded as a classic. But there’s so much more. In fact, to the original 12-track original album Delmark has added another 14 tracks, some being but snippets of studio chatter, but others being alternate versions of cuts on the finished product, as well as one previously unreleased number, “I Ain’t Stranded,” a cool, Buddy Guy-powered shuffle with a swaggering, moaning Wells vocal full of personality and brio as he brags about his self-sufficiency (interestingly, he phrasing here at times echoes that of Little Walter, but his thick, choking harp solo is all Junior).

From Hoodoo Man Blues, ‘Early In the Morning,’ Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band, with Buddy Guy

Uptempo, Wells gets into a funky mode on now-oft-covered album opener, “Snatch It Back and Hold It,” with Guy fashioning a frisky guitar filigree that has since made its way as a sound signature on countless soul and blues numbers and Wells complementing him with a fierce, multi-textured harp solo when he’s not strutting through the lyrics; the Wells-Guy axis also puts fresh spins on a deliberately paced “Good Morning Schoolgirl” and a tense, driving “Hound Dog” that is as different from Big Mama Thornton’s version as Elvis’s was from hers, not only in Wells’s anxious vocalizing but also in Guy’s wiry soloing and, between verses, Wells’s long, howling harp lines. When Guy’s amplifier crapped out, he was wired into a Leslie organ amp, and you can hear the terrific results of this on the title track, “Hoodoo Man Blues,” where the resulting thick sonics add a jazzy feel to the stomping affair. (The Leslie makes a prominent appearance on the three alternate takes of “Yonder Wall,” as well, but it’s considerably muted—if it’s there at all—on the version released on the original album. Regardless, it was used most effectively on “Hoodoo Man Blues,” a full four years ahead of George Harrison using a Leslie on the Let It Be/Abbey Road sessions.) When Wells lowers the heat, you hear not only a singer with a special ability to add emotional dimension to his lyrics with his savvy phrasing and vocal marginalia (spoken asides), but clearly a singer whose impact on one Mick Jagger was profound—on “Early In the Morning” and “Hoodoo Man Blues” the mix of rushed phrases and deep, drawled passages is practically a blueprint for the style Jagger perfected as the ‘60s rolled on and which fully flowered for him on Exile On Main Street. In fact, you could pretty much cite any of Wells’s vocals on Hoody Man Blues as the prototypes for the mature Jagger style.

From Hoodoo Man Blues, ‘Good Morning Schoolgirl,’ Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band with Buddy Guy

In daring to allow Wells and his mates to be the first Chicago blues band to record an album designed to be an entity unto itself, with no tracks being culled for single release, Koester was rewarded by Hoodoo Man Blues earning unanimously rave reviews and becoming Delmark’s all-time best selling album, as it remains today. Indeed, some additional liner notes Koester added to a 1970s reissue of the album pretty much summarize the curriculum vitae of Junior Wells’s masterpiece. To wit: Hoodoo Man Blues is not only Junior Wells’ initial LP appearance, it is damn near the first LIP by a Chicago blues band. Chess and a few other labels had reissued 45s by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, etc. but virtually no one had tried to capture the Chicago blues sound free of the limitations of juke-box/airplay promotion. Delmark is proud of the part Hoodoo Man Blues played in the popularization of the real Chicago blues and of Junior Wells. But the credit belongs to Junior, Buddy, Jack and Billy—they made the music. We just sat and dug it.

From Hoodoo Man Blues, the pure, unadulterated malevolence of ‘In the Wee Wee Hours,’ Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band with Buddy Guy

Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band’s Hoodoo Man Blues is available at

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