February 28, 1997 in Seven

Blues Harp Great Junior Wells Plays Mad Daddy’s On Saturday

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Blues stalwarts just keep on pouring through the Inland Northwest.

B.B. King recently drew a sell-out crowd to the Opera House.

Little Charlie and the Nightcats just smoked Coeur d’Alene fans at the Waterin’ Hole.

Now it’s Junior Wells’ turn.

He plays Mad Daddy’s Blues Club in Coeur d’Alene on Saturday.

Junior Wells is often regarded as the last of the great Chicago blues harp players. No one can wail on the old harmonica quite like Wells. Well, except for maybe James Cotton.

But Wells is known not only for his sultry, fluid-like harmonica playing, his celebrated stints with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy or his influential body of work. Nor only for unleashing intoxicating performances.

He’s known also for just being plain intoxicated.

And Spokane has been on the receiving end on some of his disastrous shows in the past.

Lately, at the venerable age of 62, Wells is reportedly taking his gigs more seriously.

Which is good for us.

Wells spent his early childhood watching and learning from seminal blues singers in Memphis.

Like many young blues prodigies, Wells (born Amos Blakemore) took his act to the street, playing for tips.

He moved to Chicago with his mother in 1946 when he was 12.

It was there that Wells acquired his first harmonica. And when I say acquire, I don’t mean he paid for it. At least not in full.

As the legend goes, Wells saved up $1.50 by doing odd jobs. He took his earnings to a pawn shop where he laid eyes on the perfect musical companion - a shiny harmonica. But the harp listed at $2. So Wells put down his $1.50 on the counter, grabbed the pint-size instrument and ran.

He didn’t get away, however.

In court, after Wells was arrested and charged, the judged asked the child why he took it. The young Wells said he “just had to have it.”

The judge then instructed Wells to play the instrument in the courtroom.

He did.

The magistrate was so impressed by the notes he heard waft from the harmonica that he covered the 50-cent deficit and dismissed the case.

Wells has been huffing and puffing on the harp ever since.

In 1952, when Wells was just 18, Muddy Waters hired him to play in his band. The musician replaced legend Little Walter, who retired.

During the ‘50s, Wells recorded with other elite musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Otis Spann.

The veteran teamed with Buddy Guy in the ‘60s. The two recorded a handful of albums together, including 1974’s “Drinkin’ TNT ‘n’ Smokin’ Dynamite,” recorded live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.

Today, Wells continues to produce marvelous new work, including 1993’s “Better Off With the Blues,” 1995’s “Everybody’s Gettin’ Some” and 1996’s “Come On In This House.” His most recent effort drew a Grammy nomination for best traditional blues album.

Tickets for Saturday’s shows are selling fast. Tickets are $15, $18 at the door. For ticket information, call Mad Daddy’s Blues Club at (208) 765-0252. Showtime’s at 8 p.m.

Cow-pokin’ around

Like many great bands, Portland country-punk combo Elmer is a misfit.

The magazine Maximumrocknroll - commonly regarded as the self-appointed punk-rock bible - won’t acknowledge the band as punk because it sounds too country. Despite Elmer’s penchant for kinetic, full-tilt rhythms and three-chord sprints, the Berkeley-based rag skips past Elmer’s records in its reviews.

The band doesn’t really fit in with the whole American roots music revival sweeping through this country, either. Because they’re too punk. Nevermind their roots are planted as deep in bluegrass and country as any roots-driven band.

Not being embraced by a particular segment is obviously not important. At least it shouldn’t be. Too often in an industry where pigeonholes determine a band’s worth, if a band is left out, it goes unnoticed.

No matter, Elmer adds a sweet whiskey-soaked breath of fresh air to the region’s music menu.

The country combo spawns songs conducive to tossing back a few Old Milwaukees with your buddies while grilling up some Spamburgers on a rusty oil drum in an RV park.

Over a galloping twang, Elmer vocalist/guitarist Jim MacLean tells tales of drinking, love gone sour, bible-bangers, barn-burners and rocks. Yes, rocks. Outside Elmer, MacLean is a geologist.

Elmer, which formed in Corvallis, Ore., has existed in one form or other for five years.

In that time the band of countrypunk bandits has branded its name on a handful of singles, including the newly released and aptly titled “Hillbilly Punk.”

Elmer also has an album in the can and is just waiting for a Las Vegas indie to put it out.

Tonight, locals will recognize a familiar face playing guitar with the band, Scott Kellogg. The former Mother Load vocalist/guitarist joined Elmer a couple of months ago.

“He’s exactly what we needed,” MacLean says of Kellogg. “For the longest time, we were looking for a lead player. But it turns out what we needed was a solid rhythm guy who could do a couple of leads here and there (like Kellogg).”

Kellogg’s second band Bomf as well as fellow Portlanders The Automatics are also on the bill.

The Automatics, a simply outstanding punk trio, have churned out a battery of singles and a long player on indie label Mutant Pop.

Both Bomf and Elmer will appear on the forthcoming Very Small Records compilation “Songs About Drinking II: Liverache.”

The Buggers - a punk band comprised of female Japanese exchange students - opens.

“Apparently they played at (Gonzaga University) and no one liked them. So they must be good,” says promoter Terry Grob with a little vinegar on his tongue.

Tonight’s show starts at 9:30 p.m. The cover is $4.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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