Saturday, November 04, 2006

Junior Wells - Live at Theresa's 1975 (Delmark, 2006)

Harmonica player and singer Junior Wells held down a long time residency at Theresa's, a working class tavern in Chicago. One of the most interesting things I read in the fascinating book Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories by David G. Whiteis was learning that many of the local blues clubs like Theresa's had a much larger role in the community as a meeting hall, trading post and overall information center for the people who lived in that area. Delmark opted to leave Junior's in between song banter on the disc and it was a very wise decision. This offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of working class African-American Chicagoans as Junior engages in a give and take with the audience, singing "Happy Birthday" to a visitor and joshing and jiving to the crowd while announcing community gatherings and going away parties.

As you can imagine, the music is top notch with Phil Guy (Buddy's under appreciated brother) sparking off hot runs on guitar, and Junior playing superb harp and singing in his deep soulful voice. Highlights are many, but of particular note is the lengthy version of "Snatch It Back And Hold It" with plenty of room for improvisation. Junior's warning to the men in the audience about fooling around behind their wives' back precedes a tight version of "Love Her With a Feeling" where he has the crowd in the palm of his hand. A long deeply emotional version of the blues standard "Goin' Down Slow" goes way down in the alley before Junior ends the show with a fine version of his signature song "Messin' With the Kid." This is a superb archival release equal in quality to the stellar Otis Rush disc Delmark released late last year, and hopefully there are more to come. For a glimpse into a hometown gig from one of Chicago's legends this can't be beat. Recommended without reservation for all fans of the blues.

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