Junior Wells May Have Been The Godfather Of Pimp Style
If there ever was a gangster of the Blues, surely it was Junior Wells. A sharp dressed, strutting tough guy on stage with a ripping Blues harp style and an intense powerful voice.
Those attributes made him one of the mainstays of the Chicago scene for over 40 years.
Like so many giants of the Chicago Blues, Junior Wells was born in the South. Amos Wells Blakemore Jr. was born in 1934 in either Memphis, Tennessee, or West Memphis, Arkansas. It was definitely West Memphis where he was raised and taught to play harmonica by his cousin Junior Parker and also Sonny Boy Williamson II.
By age 7 Wells could out play most adults.
Junior was 14 when his mother divorced and moved him to Chicago. Almost as soon as he arrived he carved out a place at house parties and local taverns sitting in with local musicians who would go on to become the legends of the Chicago club scene.
After settling in with a band called the Aces, Wells began to transition from his original Country Blues harp sound to an amplified sound very much influenced by Little Walter, as were so many others.
In 1952 Junior Wells made the big time replacing Little Walter himself with Muddy Watters Band. While still working with Muddy, Wells recorded for the first time as a band leader in 1953 and continued to be a force in Chicago’s studios into the 1990s.
Three early tracks that remained in his shows throughout his career were "Messin' with the Kid," "Come on in This House," and "It Hurts Me Too."
Always liking slide guitar, Junior’s band included Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks at different times. Perhaps Wells’ best known associate, other than Muddy Waters, was Buddy Guy. The two recorded and toured many times in the 1960s and reunited several times after.
The power of his voice and harmonica were only part of the impact onstage. Junior Wells had to be seen to be believed. He commanded attention with both attitude and clothing. Maybe I should say costuming. His garb could be anything from a zoot suit to what could only be called proto-pimp.
Whatever he wore, he wore it well and was as sharp as he could be. Late in his career he calmed down and was more likely to be seen in blue denim than purple gabardine, but his shows were still a treat.
Junior Wells died of cancer in 1998 and left behind a body of work that surely makes him one of Chicago’s most important Blues harp players and a powerful vocalist with many classic works.