[23 January 2007]
Junior was right for the name: Amos Wells Blakemore came along as a genuine youngster. A gifted teenage singer and harmonica player when John Lee Williamson (murdered) ought still to have been in his prime in Chicago, as well as Henry Strong (soon dead very young in an accident); contemporaneously, Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton and the other famous guy who called himself Sonny Boy Williamson were all around.
Nobody ever doubted Junior’s enthusiasm, and it marks out his music. He’s an instantly recognizable singer, but among such other major talents there wasn’t room for any such strongly distinctive new harmonica voice. He’s no imitator, though he did his considerable best, and did have a deal of talent. The enthusiasm kept him going, and as a young man with a local audience he was in good form when many more people started taking an interest in the sort of music he played regularly to audiences of about forty at the establishment that the resolute and resolute-looking Teresa maintained in Chicago (this being in the era before urban redevelopment).
The inlay notes contain interesting background: Teresa was herself interesting, as well as the phenomenon of a musician who had in his regular venue a spiritual home. Junior also had capable musicians with him, and they are part of the attraction of this set of recordings made at Teresa’s: where he needed to project less than in larger venues—or than he did when in a studio—he also lacked the human sounding-board recognized here in the style of his performances. His announcements and microphone patter are, as the notes state, a real enhancement.
Some half of this generously filled CD is distinguished by the guitar of Phil Guy, whose brother George remains famous as the now 70-year-old (!!!) Buddy Guy. While the two guitarist brothers are best described as exponents of one very distinctive style, on record they emerge as temperamentally different performers: Buddy not only as a singer but—especially in his earlier recordings for the Chess-Checker concern—an amazing punisher of strings. Phil has his own way of enhancing performances, as a very inventive player of remarkable finesse who had a lot to do and is one of the two commendations of this set within the large Junior Wells discography. Byther Smith is still no slouch, and though less distinctive he does step forward from playing second guitar on some titles. They’re a good twosome, he and Phil, and Smith sings and plays lead with an unknown second guitar on “Help the Poor”.
When the very distinctive Sammy Lawhorn was in the Muddy Waters band his boss used to call on him with particular relish and anticipation (I’ve heard records!) Here you can hear why.
There are some standard Wells numbers here; also, after an opening which demonstrates the wonderful band sound of Phil Guy / Smith & Co, Wells sings “Happy Birthday to You” to a photographer who was a regular. He prefacies the song with some patter, interspersing “the old grey stud he ain’t what he used to be” with the standard lyrics. Sehr gemutlich, the whole club performance.