Obituary: Junior Wells
Saturday 17 January 1998
The virtuoso Larry Adler took the harmonica to the concert hall and gave it respectability. Junior Wells took it right back to the gutter and gave it a fire and passion that made one think the instrument would burst at the seams. The mouth organ is a compromised musical hybrid and only Adler had the immense talent to make it larger than its limitations. The tight-knit group of Chicago bluesmen to which Wells belonged used it for a more practical reason: it was cheap to buy.
The rent party is an institution unknown in this country. Impoverished black Americans have held rent parties since the beginning of the century. To raise money to pay their rent people would organise parties and charge guests admission. Food, drink and music would be provided. Newly arrived in Chicago in 1946, Junior Wells made his living playing blues at such gatherings.
The Chicago blues style was unique. It brought the rural blues to the city and added electrical amplification not just to the guitars, but also to the mouth harps, as the harmonica was known. The music was harsh and intense.
Wells had been influenced as a child by Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker, then local heroes in Memphis. In Chicago he formed the Three Aces, building on his success with the group until 1952 when Muddy Waters, the city's leading blues player, asked him to replace another mouth harp player, Little Walter, in his band. Ironically Little Walter then joined the Aces. Wells was called into the army in 1953 but absented himself to rejoin Muddy Waters and to record with him. He returned to sort out his difficulties with the army and reformed the Aces on his discharge in 1955.
His partnership with the guitarist Buddy Guy, formed in 1958, established the two as a force outside Chicago and with Wells's album Hoodoo Man in 1966 he became famous world-wide. Records made by Wells and Guy influenced the members of the Rolling Stones and the two men toured Europe with the group in 1970. Although they became in demand for festivals at home and abroad and won various awards (Wells was nominated for a Grammy) the two always returned to Chicago.
Before he became ill last September Wells had completed scenes for the film Blues Brothers 2000 and also recorded a track for a tribute album to the Rolling Stones, Paint It Blue.
- 1 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 2 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 3 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 4 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
Bono's group has made more money from Facebook investment than from all his music
Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities
More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches, it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...
£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...