TBT – The Masterpiece That Is Junior Wells’ “Live At Theresa’s 1975″
Theresa’s Lounge was blues heaven. Legends played there, and legends were made there. Simply put, this is where one went to hear the best in blues. Opened in the basement of an apartment building by Theresa McLaurin Needham in 1949, the club was on the small side. It was happening, slightly dangerous, and even maintained a Lost and Found under the bar where everything was kept, including patrons’ misplaced pistols. The house band included Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Earl Hooker, and many others played there. What was really special about Theresa’s was that this is where Junior Wells held court. Here, he was the king, and the patrons were his minions. Nobody moved and shook Theresa’s like Wells. Ever.
For a blues fan, seeing Junior Wells perform in person was the pinnacle of blues showmanship. Then of course, there was the music itself. Sure, Little Walter was a better harp player, and Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon were better writers, but Wells performing the blues was magical. As a harp player, he wasn’t too shabby at all. As a singer, he was a blues infused James Brown. At Theresa’s, Wells always delivered the goods.
Recorded on January 10th and 13th, 1975, Live At Theresa’s 1975 is a blues masterpiece on the order of Hoodoo Man Blues. Released on October 17th, 2006 on the Delmark Records Label, it has been a seminal recording since. Personnel are Vince Chappelle – drums, Levi Warren – drums, Phil Guy – guitar, Earnest Johnson – bass, Sammy Lawhorn – guitar, Byther Smith – guitar, vocals, and Junior Wells – harmonica and vocals. Blessed with that “hall” sound, the music is clear, crisp, and has nice depth to it.
Live At Theresa’s 1975 is absurdly sublime, and satisfying. A killer version of “Little By Little” starts things off, with Byther Smith and Phil Guy digging deep. A luxuriously long, six and one half minute version of “Snatch It Back And Hold It” follows, and it swaggers and swings, appetizing in every way. Other highlights include a slow and grooving “Scratch My Back,” with it’s subtle, implied gentle sway. “Help The Poor” is played here as a club flavored cut as opposed to B.B. King’s version, and the more roughly hewn edges give this version a more immediate feel. “Come On In This House” is a slow, relaxed gem. St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is utterly brilliant, and a cut one can immerse themselves in. The album closer, “Messin’ With The Kid,” springs to life here with a bounce and energy that is infectious, and invigorating.
Another aspect of this masterpiece is the “Talk” tracks, with Wells talking to the audience in between songs, which was as much a part of the show as the music. He talks about loving your woman, and jokes about doing Frank Sinatra and Perry Como requests. Generally, these tracks are good-natured banter between Wells and his audience, most of whom knew him well.
There are many reasons this album has stood the test of time, not the least of which is it captured a moment in time, forever gone now. That moment is a treasure because it provides a glimpse of something special, something real, something superior. Through this album we can relive that moment, even if just for a little while.