March 6th, 2007
These recordings, made on two cold Chicago nights in 1975, present the blues not as an artifact or polished product, but as a slice of space-time called Theresa’s. This little Southside club was where you could catch Junior Wells, any week he wasn’t on the road, between the late fifties and early eighties. Former Delmark producer Steve Tomashefsky sets the scene:
“You have to understand that Theresa’s could barely hold forty people, and most nights it cost only a dollar to get in. The drinks were cheap and there was no minimum. There was no stage as such. The musicians simply set up at one end of the room, with their amps and mike stands on the floor. There was no sound system. A string of blinking Christmas lights hung from the ceiling and framed the performing space.”
Tomashefsky, once a regular at the club, says Wells didn’t just sing or play harmonica—he played Theresa’s, holding court, bantering with the audience and filling the place with his outsized personality. Theresa’s is where Wells was most at ease and was “unquestionably the boss.” This comes through on these recordings, which retain his lengthy conversations with the audience and even a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for one of Wells’ friends.
The sound is rich and surprisingly well balanced considering the lack of a mixer. Then again, musicians this good can often make themselves sound better than most engineers could. Guitarists Phil Guy and Byther Smith form a prefect contrast—one’s tone dry and wiry, the other’s wet with reverb. The style is funky Chicago blues, with Wells occasionally quoting from one James Brown song or another. The playing is polished, but imperfect, loose and open-ended at times—it’s not about perfection, but feeling good. It’s the kind of live electric blues disc that is unlikely to be produced today, just as a Theresa’s (bulldozed in 1983 to make way for condos) is the kind of Southside blues club that may soon be gone for good.
Posted by Mack Hagood
Review Genre(s): Blues