Tribute to Junior Wells | DVD review

juniorwellsdvdVarious ArtistsJunior Wells Tribute  

Featuring Koko Taylor, Billy Branch, Son Seals, Sugar Blue, Magic Slim, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Clay 

Sagebrush Productions, Inc.

75 minute run time

Filmed at the House of Blues in Chicago, this DVD has highlights from a 1998 concert featuring many of the best Chicago blues artists paying tribute to the late, great Junior Wells, who had passed away at the beginning of that year.

The Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor, starts things off by telling the packed house that Wells was one of the first people that she met after arriving in Chicago in 1953, telling Taylor that she looked like someone who has the blues. Taylor tears into “I Cried Like a Baby” with Vino Louden matching her intensity with his guitar solo. A short, close-up video clip of Wells fills the screen before Taylor takes things to the basement with a rousing version of “Wang Dang Doodle”.

Next up is Billy Branch backed by the Junior Wells Band with a three piece horn section and Ronnie Baker Brooks sitting in on guitar. Branch does an enthusiastic rendition of “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’”, blowing some mean harp licks that hint at the influence that Wells had on Branch’s style of playing. The band breaks it down as Branch and Brooks trade licks before Branch takes them home with the horns blaring behind him.

The intensity of Son Seals is on full display during his one song as he fires off taut guitar licks before giving solo space to Garrick Patton on alto sax and Johnny Iguana on the Hammond B3 organ. When Sugar Blue takes over the stage, he does “Messin’ with the Kid”, giving the first solo to guitarist Michael Dotson before taking off on several super-charged solos that finds Blue filling every space with notes. Magic Slim brings things back down to earth with his trademark driving sound on “The Blues is Alright”.  Reprising “Messin’ with the Kid”, Ronnie Baker Brooks transforms the classic with a heavy reggae rhythm, helped by brother Wayne on guitar. It is one of the highlights of the program.

When Lonnie Brooks takes the stage, the energy level goes way up. After dealing with a guitar issue, Lonnie rips through “Treat Me Like Your Dog” while his sons do their familiar slide step behind him. The pace slows for a searing rendition of “Your World” with the senior Brooks singing and playing like a man possessed. The grand finale features Otis Clay backed by the Junior Wells Band. Clay’ soulful voice sounds right at home on “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge”. Guitarist Albert Castiglia gets several solo spots to show off his fleet-fingered fret work.

Throughout the video, photos and silent, brief video clips of Wells pop up as reminders of his legacy. Now that Taylor, Seals and Magic Slim have also passed, this concert footage serves as a testimonial to time when legends did indeed walk the streets of Chicago, making music that will be with us for generations to come. An excellent and worth seeing for the segments featuring Koko Taylor, Ronnie Baker Brooks and his father Lonnie, who steals the show.

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