Junior Wells/Buddy Guy – Southside Blues Jam (1970)

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by Nick DeRiso

Several of Muddy Waters‘ great sidemen — Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and Otis Spann — appear on the loose and funky “Southside Blues Jam,” originally issued by Chicago’s Delmark Records.

Funny, for all their marquee value, Wells and Guy — Buddy was born in Lettsworth, Louisiana — are very nearly overshadowed by the intricate, intelligent playing of the shoulda-been legendary Spann.

In this, his last studio appearance, Spann’s fecund blues genius is writ large. Even as Junior Wells (ever the showman) chicken-legs through each song — “I know her daddy got to be a millionaire,” he sings, “I can tell by the way she walks” — Spann never stumbles.

But Spann is only part of what makes this record important.

Recorded in December 1969 and January 1970, “Southside Blues Jam” lives up to its name — portraying a refreshing disregard for later-period blues recordings’ penchant for production. It’s roll the tapes, and let’s play.

The album recalls the old Blue Monday, where Guy was a regular, at Theresa’s Blues Bar on Chicago’s Southside. The feel of those sweaty workouts serves a blueprint for the playing and an inspiration for the album’s name.

One drawback (at least for me): No liner notes. The closest you get to that is a photograph of the boys on the back. A treat, sure, but not something that lends any perspective.

Even so, they seem june-bug happy with the proceedings in that photo — exhuberant with the memory of instruments only just now cooling off back in the studio.

In my mind, they’ve just finished “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” the almost eight-minute long closer. That song is everything “Southside Blues Jam” aspires to be as an album: Blues without the lathered-up producers and thunk-out structure.

On it, Buddy Guy is pushing, Junior Wells is pulling — and check Otis Spann: Cucumber-cool, jacket-pulled-off slick.

The gospel never sounded so blue, so jazz, so locomotive.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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