Wow! Long time no write. I suppose I better make up for the lost time with some new reviews of new and newly-released/refurbished blues. Who better to start off with than one of the most beloved blues duos of all time?
Listeners of Señor Blues have probably realized that I am a huge fan of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, both solo and together; Hoodoo Man Blues, their first recorded collaboration from 1965, is in my Top 5 Favourite Blues Album list. That being said, their 1972 collaboration, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues, is not one of my favourites from their extensive catalogue. Despite its production by musical heavyweights Ahmet Ertegun and Eric Clapton (around the time of his "Layla" period and also, unfortunately, a debilitating drug addiction), and the presence of some fine supporting musicians on the disc including saxophonist A.C. Reed, pianist Dr. John, and even the J. Geils Band on two cuts, I have always felt that it is a fairly dull recording, with lifeless performances, weak song choices, and a thin, monochromatic tone overall. Though it has gained some favourable reviews over the years, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, and Eric Clapton have all gone on record stating their disappointment with the finished product. The highly imaginative (har har) album title speaks for itself!
If I wasn't particularly enamoured of the original recording, why on Earth would I want to purchase a deluxe 2-CD edition of it? Two words: bonus tracks.
Yes, in the digital age, it is almost routine that reissues of older albums are peppered with bonuses of varying quality -- you might get rare photographs, new liner notes, alternate mixes, mono mixes, radio mixes, perhaps even quadrophonic surround sound mixes. In the case of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues, you get three bonus tracks on Disc One (which contains the original ten-track album) as well as an entire second disc's worth of bonus material (well, maybe more like "album's worth", since it clocks in at around 60 minutes). And these are not your garden variety alternate mix bonus tracks either (not entirely, anyway) -- the majority of the bonus material consists of unheard tracks from the original 1970 sessions that spawned the original album.
I have read that the original recordings were actually shelved in 1970 because the record company did not feel that enough Grade A material was recorded the first time around. Listening to the bonus tracks on this Deluxe Edition, I am truly puzzled. If anything, the previously unreleased recordings are better than the officially released songs -- if these tracks had made up the album in the first place, I might have had a significantly different opinion of the album overall!
I will highlight a few of my favourite songs from this new and improved edition of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues:
First and foremost is the rousing rendition of Memphis Minnie's "Dirty Mother For You" that is featured on Disc One. For one thing, I have rarely heard Memphis Minnie's songs covered by Chicago Blues artists, so any recording that features a new sonic or musical spin on this iconic blueswoman's classics is worth at least a listen from me. That being said, "Dirty Mother For You" is a pretty risque song (if you don't believe me, sound out the title a couple of times and you'll understand what it actually means!), so I can see why it was not originally released on the album. Still and all, this track packs a punch that is missing from the original album tracks, featuring some highly spirited playing and the pair of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells trading off verses and even seemingly making up lyrics on the spot. Everyone is firing on all cylinders on this track and it is a worthy addition to this album.
Closing off Disc One is an extended funky blues called "Why Am I Treated So Bad (Playin' The Blues)". Though Clapton's rhythm playing is a bit too busy and the bass playing too trebly to my ears, it's a great workout that fuses Guy and Wells' blues roots with the soul, R&B, and funk sounds of the day. In a way, you could say that this sound was a forerunner to the modern funk-influenced sound that many modern blues bands play (for better or worse). As with "Dirty Mother For You", there is a joyful energy contained in this recording. I almost wonder if it was actually destined for inclusion on the original album, as a shorter mono mix (presumably for radio airplay) was created and is included on Disc Two of this reissue.
Another highlight for me is the instrumental "D Blues" on Disc Two (although, to be fair, it's actually in the key of B, not so much D). Here, you get a chance to hear Guy, Clapton, and Wells trading licks back and forth over a 12-bar blues structure. If you're not a big fan of longer blues jams, you might not enjoy sitting through this one, as it runs for almost 9 minutes, but if you enjoy instrumentals (especially those that include fiery guitar licks, as featured here), this is blues heaven!
There are some other fine songs included amongst the bonus material on this Deluxe Edition, and, don't get me wrong, there were highlights from the original record itself too. All in all, I am pleased that this reissue of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues has been released (and recently reissued after being out-of-print for some time), as it expands the original album and showcases some amazing additional recorded work from the apparently chaotic and supposedly less-than-productive sessions. For me, that can be one of the perks of the digital age for music -- we finally have a chance to hear some recorded material that was not originally intended for release.