The Real Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Junior Wells

Ah, Hoodoo Man Blues. I bought that album when it first came out. Down in Wardour Street, I believe. And I still have it to this day. The very same album, y’know? I mean, how many years ago was that? I think it was 1967 when I picked that album up, and I just loved it, from start to finish.

Every track on it, there’s just such a great vibe. Junior Wells spoke with his harmonica. It’s amazing how this tiny little instrument could be so big in those tracks.

The harmonica is a very overlooked and underrated instrument – and hugely versatile. It’s just so expressive, depending on who’s playing it and how much lung power they have. When Howlin’ Wolf plays the harmonica it becomes like a horn. He was a big guy and he could summon up a lot of wind power. But I think with Junior Wells it was very sexy. And the sounds he got from the instrument were unique to him. And they were like his voice. It really was like he was singing.

Junior could be a wild character, so they tell me. He liked to rave it up a bit, y’know? I did meet him a couple of times. I met him when they opened up the first Hard Rock Café, in Boston, and I just loved him. A very cool guy. I didn’t talk, I just listened – in awe – to everything he had to say. Y’know, as he talked about his life.

On the copy of Hoodoo Man Blues that I’ve got it’s definitely Buddy Guy playing the guitar – because you can hear it – but he’s listed as ‘Friendly Chap’, which is interesting. I think it must have been a record company contract thing. Buddy and Junior were great together. And this is just my interpretation – I don’t have the inside scoop. But looking at it from the outside, I think that Junior wanted to be the singer, so there was no room for Buddy to sing too. So maybe that was where they went off in different directions, because they had different things they wanted to do regarding singing. But they were just a fantastic combination.

Honestly, I have to say that I don’t think I’m a very good harmonica player. It’s possible that I don’t spend enough time playing it. I could probably get better. I do have a lot of wind, so I can blow that thing. But when I listen to people like Junior Wells, they’re masters. It’s the same thing with James Cotton. Those guys were just amazing. When they played the harmonica it was sort of like Jimi Hendrix launching into a guitar solo.