LIVE IN BOSTON 1966
Junior Wells & The Aces
A live recording that captures the late, great Junior Wells in peak form at a pivotal moment in his career, Live in Boston 1966 needs only its powerhouse, gripping performances to recommend it. For this gig at an unidentified Boston night spot, Wells is supported not by any of the Chi-town stalwarts he had been using back in the Windy City, but rather by the Aces, the band he had launched his career with around 1950. Appropriately named, the Aces were a pioneering electric Chicago blues band that included Wells on amplified harmonica, guitarist brothers Dave (who in the late ‘50s switched to electric bass and became one of that instrument’s most respected practitioners) and Louis Meyers and legendary drummer Fred Below, master of the blues shuffle. Wells had left the Aces in 1952 to work and record with Muddy Waters, but by the next year he was leading and recording with his own band.
When Wells and the reunited Aces showed up in Beantown in 1966, the blues was in the midst of, on the one hand, a revival spurred by the British Invasion-era rock bands’ devotion to the American masters of the form, and on the other, an evolution into a harder, driving style thanks to an infusion of rock energy and ideas from abroad and Stateside. Wells and the Aces weren’t cottoning to blues-rock on this date—their incendiary, raw set was the stuff of Pepper’s Lounge and any number of dicey venues on Chicago’s South Side. Straight ahead, fierce and driving, the quartet gave no quarter in its song selection, keeping the repertoire fundamental and the mood edgy. You can hear their commitment in the near-eight-minute opus “Junior’s Whoop,” wherein Wells growls a pleading entreaty to his recalcitrant woman, but most of the song is given over to Wells’s impressive harmonica discourse, in which his unrequited lust boils over into moans, howls and cries of varying textures, supported by Louis Meyers’s complementary, heated guitar soloing. Second song into the set the fellows roll out a real treat by way of a propulsive workout on “Man Downstairs,” a conflation of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out” and Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” featuring a truly bemused, wry Wells vocal riding the rhythmic wave Below instigates. A hot blast of Arthur Crudup’s “Look On Yonder’s Wall” is stoked by Wells’s piercing, pulsating harmonica solos; Junior Parker’s “Feelin’ Good,” a 1953 R&B hit for Parker during his Sun Records tenure, kicks off the set with a boogie-woogie flourish and some righteous declaiming by Wells; and Wells’s signature tune, “Messin’ With the Kid,” stomps along unrelentingly on the strength of Wells’s assertive vocal, Meyers’s wailing guitar lines and the busy, energetic pulse Below lays down. In a nod to his old boss, Wells closes the set with “Got My Mojo Workin’” and gives Meyers ample room to carry the weight with a solo spot at the outset that assumes various shapes and tonal shadings for the first 3:18 of a seven-minutes-plus rendition. Wells enters with a swagger and a salacious attitude informing his vocal, which has the effect of kicking the intensity up a notch before he hands off to Meyers for another exciting six-string sprint ahead of Wells returning to punctuate the proceedings with a shimmering, atmospheric harmonica monologue. The sound’s a bit rough here, but with it comes an intimacy born of proximity to the action—feels like you have a front row table in a small joint and the players’ sweat is drenching you, too. Now them’s the real blues. -–David McGee