top of page

Buddy Guy & Junior Wells — Live in Montreux


Buddy Guy Junior Wells Live in Montreaux

1978 saw many things appear: Muddy Waters’ Grammy-winning I’m Ready, Coors Light, Foreigner’s Double Vision, Jaws 2, Reese’s Pieces, the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, the handheld Electronic Quarterback, Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove, Chipwich, the launch of Van Halen, the implosion of the Sex Pistols, the Mazda RX-7, Albert Collins’ Ice Pickin.

 

And on a Sunday evening in early July, an excited horde in Switzerland saw a caravan of Chicago’s blues heroes, live and in-action, arrive atop the Montreux Jazz Festival stage.

 

Here is the bristling proof.

 

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were in town. By that time, the two had already clocked hundreds upon hundreds of bandstand nights together in packed, neighborhood dive bars as well as at packed, elite venues around the globe, just like this one. Their synergism brought them a long way since first famously uniting forces over 1965’s Hoodoo Man Blues.

 

Each man’s signature brand comes out: Guy, who opens the show, is built for tense drama. Guitar notes get seared, sometimes arriving in violent flashfloods (a distraught “The Things I Used to Do”). Other times flowing in more metered streams (the slow roller “One Room Country Shack”). Combining both strategies is the plan for “Every Day I Have the Blues,” unfurling the attack as if a strand of barbed wire: piercing, concentrated, knotty clusters interspersed by lengths of high-tensile licks and fills. Yet don’t look for any slack or relief in Buddy’s singing. His grimaced vocals race with his guitar up to peak intensity—neck and neck, higher and higher. They are so aligned that he’s heard here audibly grunting and groaning in empathy with that poor guitar having to endure such creative brutalization.

 

Wells, on the other hand, exudes a certain funk. Not the typical run-of-the-mill stuff, though. No, just as Magic Sam coined the term West Side Soul for his variant of Chicago blues, Junior developed his own proprietary West Side funk. His naturally cool, tough-as-nails aura negates any need for his eight, tight tracks to overtly burn. A wicked shimmy-shake is more often the harpist’s mode. Plus, Guy is always right there at the ready, his fretsmanship ticking away like a timebomb, waiting for an open spot to really detonate.

 

Covered in cymbal haze, “Driving Wheel” intentionally inches along, gathering attitude. Even its fluttering harp solo lumbers. “Come On In This House,” another bruiser, teases out falsetto vocal corkscrews from Wells. Both “Help Me” and “Somebody’s Got to Go” (a stepchild of “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’”) trace to Junior’s main man, Sonny Boy Williamson II. But then, “Messin’ with the Kid” strikes. Wells comes on like the James Brown of Halsted Street, firing off spontaneous asides in between barking out lyrics and blasting out sharp shards from his harmonica. The rhythm heaves and pushes hard, only momentarily abated every time that descending riff cycles back around through the groove. Plus, Buddy gets the greenlight to scorch a large hole in the middle. It is a classic Wells-Guy moment. And the crowd goes wild.

 

Their shared band comes fully battle-tested, too. Dave Myers’ dominant bass walks through songs with impunity, pounding the rhythm, having done so as a member of the Aces—Little Walter’s rhythm crew inherited from Wells in 1952. Drummer Odie Payne serves as the motor, just as he did behind Magic Sam and, before that, Elmore James, as one of his Broomdusters. Jimmy Johnson, on second guitar, would officially break solo just a few months after this show, via Johnson’s Whacks, and go on to big things, including a slot alongside Buddy and Junior in the Blues Hall of Fame.

 

And speaking of the Blues Hall of Fame …

 

The rest of the program gets divvied up between their guests—the Chicago Blues All Stars—who gladly grab the five remaining performances. That’s when the galloping shuffle “When I Feel Better” falls easy prey to Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s famed axeman. Eddy Clearwater, yet another inductee, becomes the “Hoochie Coochie Man” for five pulsatile minutes. However, a better soapbox for his guitar comes when channeling the agitation that goads Andrew “Big Voice” Odom into validating his nickname with “I Don’t Know,” a highly disgruntled kiss-off. Above, Odom sounds like Bobby Bland—if Bland was more of a fighter than a lover; below, Clearwater busily runs the fingerboard. At nearly seven minutes, their collaboration is still not long enough. Then, Jimmy Johnson seizes his chance at the centerstage microphone. His own fingerboard fireworks and high, tenor voice bring a new degree of anguish to Otis Rush’s already anguished “So Many Roads.” Everyone is on their game.

 

In 1998, Junior’s 63-year-old heart gave out. Buddy, 87, is currently finishing his Damn Right Farewell Tour. That makes Live in Montreux a valued memento of when both were airing it out in their prime. Oh, what a night.

 

Label: Cleopatra Blues

Release Date: 2/16/24

Artist Website: buddyguy.net

 

Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski




119 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page