Junior Wells (December 9, 1934 – January 15, 1998), born Amos Wells Blakemore Jr.,was an American Chicago Blues vocalist, harmonica player, and recording artist.
If you’re familiar with the Blues Brothers films, right at the end of the second one – whilst the credits are running, there are short clips of several artists – Junior Wells is the dude in the yellow hat.
Life and career
Junior Wells was born and grew up in Memphis. Initially taught by his cousin Junior Parker and Sonny Boy Williamson (the 2nd) Wells learned how to play the harmonica by the age of seven with surprising skill. He moved to Chicago in 1948 with his mother after her divorce and began sitting in with local musicians at house parties and taverns. Wild and rebellious but needing an outlet for his talents, he began performing with The Aces (guitarist brothers Dave and Louis Myers and drummer Fred Below) and developed a more modern amplified harmonica style influenced by Little Walter (thought by many, including me, to be among the very best). In 1952, he made his first recordings, when he replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters’ band and appeared on one of Waters’ sessions for Chess Records in 1952. His first recordings as a band leader were made in the following year for States Records. In the later 1950s and early 1960s he also recorded singles for Chief Records and its Profile Records subsidiary, including “Messin’ With The Kid”, “Come on in This House”, and “It Hurts Me Too”, (a version of which I cover in my current set) which would remain in his repertoire throughout his career.
Junior Wells worked with guitarist Buddy Guy (another of the ‘best’) in the 1960s, and featured Guy on guitar when he recorded his first album, Hoodoo Man Blues for Delmark Records. Wells and Guy supported the Rolling Stones on numerous occasions in the 1970s. 1996’s Come On in This House was an intriguing set of classic blues songs with a rotating cast of slide guitarists.
Wells continued performing until he was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1997. That autumn, he suffered a heart attack while undergoing treatment, sending him into a coma. Wells died in Chicago on January 15, 1998.