Born 9th December 1934 Died 15th January 1998
Born Amos Blackmore in Memphis, Tennessee, Wells was raised in Arkansas. Wells was listening to all the great blues music around him and was inspired by artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Junior Parkerl. Parker was to give Junior his first informal lesson on the Harmonica. A frequently told story is how Junior obtained his first harmonica. Seeing the harp he wanted advertised in a shop for $2.00, he went in placed all the money he had, $1.50, lifted the harp and ran. However the police soon caught up with him and he was brought before a judge, but after the judge heard Wells play the harp it is alleged he produced the 50 cents owing and told the boy to be on his way.
In 1946 at the age of twelve Junior moved to Chicago, already convinced that he was going to make a career in the music industry. He started making appearances at clubs and house parties, sitting in with local musicians. He was soon impressing artists such as Tampa Red, Sunnyland Slim and Big Maceo. In 1950 he auditioned for the Myers brothers Louis and David at a house party and formed the Three Deuces, later drummer Fred Below joined and they became known as The Aces getting regular work around the South Side. In 1952 Little Walter, hamonica player For Muddy Waters, had decided to leave The Muddy Waters Band and go solo, hijacked The Aces for his backing band and renamed the band ‘The Jukes’. Wells moved to take Little Walter’s place in The Muddy Waters Band, soon after he was drafted into the army, after a short time he went AWOL, returning to play with Muddy, he did eventually completed his army commitments and was discharged in 1955. Around this time Junior recorded some of his own material for the States label including ‘Hoodoo Man’, ‘Cut That Out’ ‘Eagle Rock’ and ‘Junior’s Wail’. His association with the original Aces was not completely broken they did appear again as his backing on some recordings as Junior Wells And His Eagle Rockers. On two other recordings ‘So All Alone’ and ‘Lawdy! Lawdy!’ Muddy Waters did a spot of moonlighting playing guitar on the session.
In 1957 Wells, through a recommendation from Willie Dixon, joined up with local entrepreneur and producer Mel London who owned the Chief and Profile labels. He recorded a number of classic tracks in sessions with the labels including ‘Little By Little’ with Willie Dixon doing the vocal harmony and ‘Messin With The Kid’ featuring the superb guitar work of Earl Hooker.
In 1965 recording for Delmark with Bob Koester producing Junior laid down the classic album ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’, the label claiming it was one of the first custom made Chicago blues LPs, rather than a compilation of singles. The album captured the atmosphere and feel of a Wells set at any of the clubs that he would normally play. Providing lead guitar was Buddy Guy, who was billed as ‘Friendly Chap’, because of his contractual restrictions with Chess. The two had played together on the circuit but this was to be the start of a long association, the two were to be at the forefront of the modern blues scene, both at home and in Europe. Wells went on in the sixties to produce billboard R&B successes with ‘Up In Heah’ in 1966 and in 1968 a funky style ‘You’re Tuff Enough’.
By 1970 Wells was touring with Buddy Guy in Europe and playing regularly at his normal haunts in Chicago, normally Theresa’s Lounge, recording fine sessions for the album ‘On Tap’ in 1974 and the classic ‘Buddy Guy And Junior Wells Plays The Blues recorded in 1972 for the Atlantic label under the direction of Eric Clapton
Although he only recorded sporadically during the 1980s, in 1990 Wells teamed up with fellow harp masters James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch to record the critically-acclaimed ‘Harp Attack!’ album. Wells' recorded output in the '90s suffered from the artist's lack of commitment, but his final album - 1997's ‘Come On In This House’ - won him a W.C. Handy Blues Award for Traditional Blues Album. Wells also had a cameo appearance in the film ‘Blues Brothers 2000’, which was released after his death. Despite moving away from the studio in the 80’ and 90’s he was still a potent figure in his live performances, a familiar swaggering figure commanded the attention of everyone in the audience with vocal yelp or blast on from his amplified harp, he continued to perform on stage until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. He still remains up there with the great names of post war blues harp playing like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II. After he suffering a heart attack during treatment he went into a coma passing away on 15th January 1998.