Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues – ATCO Records SD-33-364 (1972)/Speakers Corner Records (2020) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 38:34 ****1/2:
(Buddy Guy – lead/rhythm guitars, vocals; Junior Wells – harmonica, vocals; Eric Clapton – rhythm guitar, bottleneck guitar; A.C. Reed – tenor saxophone; Mike Utley – piano, organ; Leroy Stewart – bass; Roosevelt Shaw – drums; Dr. John – piano; J. Geils – rhythm guitar; Magic Dick – harmonica; Carl Radle – bass; Jim Gordon – drums; Seth Justman – piano; Danny Klein – bass; Juke Joint Jimmy – foot tapping; Steven Bladd – drums)
Blues music shaped Rock ’N’ Roll from its inception. While relegated to specialty label status, its legendary performers never crossed over to significant mainstream success. They were destined to watch mainstream artists and emerging stars like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis capitalize on the new derivative idiom. There were some exceptions, most notably Chuck Berry and Little Richard, but the vast majority of early rock artists were not the pioneering blues players like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon or Sonny Boy Willamson. When the British Invasion took hold, blues music was further separated from its roots, as groups like The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Cream rose to stardom. In some cases, these rock stars paid homage and lent support to these forgotten trailblazers.
There has been no greater influence on rock guitarists than Buddy Guy. His “disciples” include Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. and Keith Richards to name a few. Amazingly, Guy remains active in the studio. He gained initial acclaim as part of Muddy Waters’ house band in Chicago. But his most prolific collaboration is with the great harmonica player, Junior Wells. Wells’ style of play also was influential in the English rock scene. The partnership of Guy and Wells spanned nearly thirty years. Speakers Corner has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues. Aided by a stellar cadre of session musicians (including Eric Clapton, A.C. Reed, Mike Utley and Dr. John), blues jamming is front and center. Side One opens with a Buddy Guy original, “A Main Of Many Words”. This is “big city blues”, gritty and swinging. Guy offers animated vocals (with some well-timed screaming) and an incendiary guitar solo. It seems appropriate that Junior Wells takes over on the Sonny Boy Williamson opus, “My Baby She Left Me (She Left Me A Mule To Ride)”. His muscular voice contrasts with his partner and he contributes a nimble, articulate harp run. Next up is a two-song medley of Wells material. The duo share “down ’n’ dirty” singing on “Come On In This House”.. Then there is an ear-catching up tempo break to “Have Mercy Baby”. The musicians downshift to sultry resonance seamlessly as Guy’s impeccable guitar riffs permeate the arrangement.
Equally adept at covers, “T-Bone Shuffle” is as advertised, timeless blues swing. The condensed structure and impassioned guitar solo are veritable templates for blues transitioning to rock. It is familiar, but impressive in its urgency. Wells is terrific on “Poor Man’s Blues” with his ardent earthy pleas and offers another crisp harmonica solo. The production of Play The Blues is top-notch, but not overdone. The raw essence of the music prevails. Side Two continues the celebration. Junior Wells’ most recognizable song is “Messin’ With The Kid”. This version is pure blues, a veritable historical document. There are grooves and hooks galore. In testimony to the blues life, “This Old Fool” moves briskly with harp accents and a full-bodied electric guitar. With a creative touch, “I Don’t Know” invokes a slow-walk cadence, showcasing a call and response with the band. What would blues music be without a cautionary tale. “Bad Bad Whiskey” fits the bill perfectly. Wells’ sorrowful intonation is enveloped in a loping tempo. A bottle neck guitar (Eric Clapton) is a nice touch. The finale is truly a big finish. In the only instrumental on the album, “Honeydripper” dazzles with authentic roadhouse swagger, right down to the tinkling piano riffs.
Speakers Corner records has done an outstanding job in re-mastering Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues to 180-gram vinyl. The overall mix is balanced, with excellent stereo separation. This vinyl update is a must for collectors and blues aficionados.
Side One: A Man Of Many Words; My Baby She Left Me (She Left Me A Mule To Ride); Come On In This House/ Have Mercy Baby; T-Bone Shuffle; A Poor Man’s Plea
Side Two: Messin’ With The Kid; This Old Fool; I Don’t Know; Bad Bad Whiskey; Honeydripper
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