Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 209

This is the grave of Junior Wells.

Born Amos Blakemore in 1934 in or around Memphis, the boy who became Junior Wells began playing harmonica at the age of 7. When his mother divorced in 1948, they moved to Chicago. Wells, a bit of a troubled boy, began playing in bands, partially just to keep him off the street. His harmonica playing was a nearly instant hit in the Chicago blues scene. In 1952, he played on his first recordings, in Muddy Waters’ band making records for Chess. He started recording under his own name in 1953. Wells never really was much for the charts. His single “Little by Little” reached #23 on the R&B charts in 1960, but it was one of only two songs to chart. Wells certainly became much more influential than his album sales would suggest. There are a couple of reasons for this. First is that he became closely associated with Buddy Guy. In fact, Wells helped give Guy his start, but the flashy guitarist would soon outpace his mentor’s popularity. But they worked together repeatedly for the rest of Wells’ career, making many well-received albums. Closely related to this was the British rockers’ interest in blues and Wells’ relative youth in providing them that authenticity they desired. Bands like The Rolling Stones loved Wells and worked with him several times. Wells and Guy performed frequently in Britain to big audiences. He remained a major figure for the rest of his life, one of the last, along with Guy, of the classic era blues artists to be performing.

But with someone like Junior Wells, the music is far more important than any words I can write. So let’s listen to some live recordings:

Junior Wells died in 1998, at the age of 63. He had bad health the last few years of his life, including a heart attack and a bout with cancer. He is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

You can contribute to the travel required to make this series happen here. I would certainly like to highlight more blues musicians. Previous posts in this series are archived here.