FRIDAY, FEB. 24, 1995

Indications Are That Junior Wells Is At His Best

When Junior Wells is good, he’s very, very good.

And then there was that night at the Red Lion Tavern …

It’s an indisputable fact that Wells is one of the world’s two or three best blues harp players, but it’s also true that like the blues version of George Jones, you never knew on any given night exactly which Junior Wells would show up.

However, the word from around the country is that Wells is playing as well now as he ever has - and doing it every night.

Maybe the best evidence to support that argument is the fact that he has a crackling nine-piece band that he’s been able to keep out on the road for the past few years.

You don’t do that by taking the stage half-crocked most nights.

When Wells takes the Masonic Temple stage tonight, it will be a rare opportunity to experience a fullfledged, funkified Chicago horn band live and onstage.

Wells wrote the seminal “Messin’ With the Kid” and has the role of the Chicago bluesman down to a T: Always natty in a suit, trademark fedora and a battery of swinging, glittering jewelry, he flirts with the ladies, goads the men and coaxes a vast army of sounds out of his harp.

He calls it his Texas saxophone.

In his long career, Wells has absorbed the styles of many of the great blues harp players and turned them into his own.

Wells grew up near Memphis and he was influenced by musicians from that city - Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Big Walter Horton. He replaced Little Walter, another one of his idols, in Muddy Waters’ band, which crossed over in the ‘60s with a great live record, “Hoodoo Man Blues,” that helped turn rock fans onto the blues.

Wells’ long collaboration with the great Buddy Guy on guitar produced some astounding moments, but both men needed to develop their own sounds. In Wells’ case, that led toward rhythm and blues.

Sometimes, he gets into a James Brown bag or he’ll move into some New Orleans funk with a cover of, say the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” His own “Messin’ With the Kid” sports a fine backbeat.

But Wells is always a bluesman first and foremost, if for no other reason than that he has been soaked in the culture of the blues for the past half century.

“I don’t write anything that I haven’t experienced or I don’t know other people who have,” he once said.

That’s good enough for Van Morrison - not long ago, the Irish blues lover invited Wells and his band to open on Morrison’s North America tour - and it will probably be good enough for a house full of sweaty happy fans tonight.

xxxx Junior Wells Location and time: Masonic Temple, 8:30 tonight Tickets: $12 (day of show price)

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