Happy Birthday Junior Wells

Happy Birthday Junior WellsThe Hoodoo Man would be 75 today.

Harmonica great Junior Wells was born December 9th 1934. It’s remarkable to think that someone who played with Muddy Waters in the early days would have been so young today (he was 19 in 1952 when he joined Muddy’s band, and died in 1998, aged 63).

I like Junior a great deal, so I’m celebrating him today. His harmonica style strikes me as being deceptively simple: he knew when not to play. And when he decided to play, he could make that thing wail like a cat being set on fire.

Of course, he was also a great singer and a snappy dresser. And, if the anecdotes are anything to go by, he wasn’t prone to taking shit from anybody. In one (undated) eulogy Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records, recalls some of the hairier moments:

Toward the end of its existence, Peppers’ musicians were hassled by a gang that extracted a ransom for each instrument and amp carried into the club. I guess Lefty Diz didn’t want to pay when he was Junior’s guitarist. They attacked him right on the bandstand during one of Junior’s sets. The gangster and Junior exited the club through a plate-glass window and the word was out that Junior better not come back to 43rd Street for his next gig. A few nights later Junior stepped out of his car with a shotgun, fired in the air, and 43rd Street was as safe as if the legendary Two-Gun Pete was on the job…

What’s your favourite bit of Junior Wells folklore? Shout it out in the comments box. And in the meantime, here’s the Hoodoo Man himself:

Happy birthday, Junior.

4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Junior Wells

  • June 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Everybody here knows and loves Junior Wells’ 1965, LP “Hoodoo Man’s Blues”, right?
    Yesterday I bought my first chromatic harp ever. At first I was disappointed, because it is impossible to play the same licks one is used to on a diatonic. But after a while of fiddling with the chrom, I suddenly understood that this is the kind of harp Junior Wells plays on “In the Wee Hours”: the draw sequence of notes is almost all he (masterly) uses . Wow, instant inspiration!

  • June 16, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    The song is a Dm blues. He’s using a 4 Octave C chromatic most of the time and relies on well chosen single notes with a heap of attitude. As you say, predominantly draw notes. These days, guys would be throwing in a bunch of 5 hole octave splits for some bad ass tone and a jazzier approach. You could attempt some of the licks on a C diatonic in 3rd position (except of course for the lower register he uses on the chromatic). Note that at around the 3 minute mark, following a break in the harp line, he switches to cross harp on a G diatonic. You suddenly hear bends, diatonic phrasing and whole a different tonal quality in the harp line. Not to mention the standard diatonic closing lick; almost a blues-style Looney Tunes outro!

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