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Album Review

The historical details surrounding the recording session that became Buddy & the Juniors are almost as entertaining — and oddly satisfying — as the music itself. Released on Blue Thumb in 1970 on multi-colored wax, this session, were it not for a very real economic necessity due to Buddy Guy's feud with Vanguard Records, would never have happened. According to producer Michael Cuscuna's liner notes on the CD reissue, Vanguard wouldn't pick up the tab for Guy to fly to New York to mix an album he'd cut with Junior Mance and Gary Bartz — also produced by Cuscuna. Being an ever-enterprising genius, Cuscuna pitched the idea for a recording between Guy, Mance, and Junior Wells to Blue Thumb label boss Bob Krasnow; he jumped. The all-acoustic Buddy & the Juniors was recorded on December 18 of 1969, and on December 19 they mixed this album and the Vanguard date! While an acoustic pairing between Guy and Wells is a natural one, adding jazz pianist Mance — a Chicago native whose early influences were the boogie-woogie recordings of Meade "Lux" Lewis and Albert Ammons — to the mix was risky in terms of interpersonal dynamics, but in retrospect, proved a brilliant idea. The proceedings are informal and raw with plenty of fireworks. The first two tracks — "Talkin' 'Bout Women Obviously" and "Riffin' [aka A Motif Is Just a Riff]" — were the last two recorded. They're blazing, hairy, on-the-spot improvisational duets between Wells and Guy: the former offers lyrics in a back-and-forth extemporaneous style; the latter develops in intensity as it goes on. The playing by Guy and Wells is inspirational. "Buddy's Blues," the first interplay of the trio, has Mance digging deeply into the Otis Spann tradition, just rolling inside it, accenting lines, punching chords, and offering beautiful tags to Wells' harmonica lines. Wells' vocal on "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" meets Guy's six-string head-on, with Mance comping and popping a melodic fill underneath each sung phrase. He introduces "Five Long Years" as a piano blues that gets countered in exponential grit by Guy's vocal and Wells' punchy harp; he shuffles, fills, trills, and blows straight at the the keyboard, creating a forceful gale of dialogue. On the slippery boogie-woogie set closer, Wells' "Ain't No Need," the listener grasps the deep communication of this trio. Given how earthy, informal, and joyful this acoustic session is, it conveys everything right about Chicago blues.

Biography

Born: 30 July 1936 in Lettsworth, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Buddy Guy is one of the most celebrated blues guitarists of his generation (and arguably the most celebrated), possessing a sound and style that embodied the traditions of classic Chicago blues while also embracing the fire and flash of rock & roll. Guy spent much of his career as a well-regarded journeymen, cited as a modern master by contemporary blues fans but not breaking through to a larger audience, before he finally caught the brass ring in the 1990s and released a series of albums that...
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