Life in brief while runnin’ with Junior

Graphic by Bruna Costa

Thanks to my South Side Shaman, a/k/a Lefty the Wizz Dizz, I fell under the hyper but benevolent spell of Mister Junior Wells while in the Windy City. Though scarcely five-foot-seven even in his platforms and process pomp, Junior had earned his berth as King of Blues Harmonica, especially after the death of Little Walter, sadly, from head blows sustained in a nightclub fight.

Walter had held the harmonica chair early in the 1950s, wailing behind the big boss, Muddy Waters. When the wily soloist landed his contract on the Chess Brothers label, the even more sleek Junior jumped up and shagged the spot. I know all this because in the summer of 1979 I rode around in my “blood brothers” white Cadillac El Dorado.

Vince Chappelle was the owner of the ride. He was “baptized” with olive oil straight out of the can at his mom’s, Willie Mae Chappelle’s, sanctified church on Indiana Avenue. He took care of me while I was bunked up in Chicago. As did his son, Victor, who attended the highly-ranked Jean Baptiste DuSable High School near their Greenwood home. (We all rode with Junior Wells!)

Junior still filled in behind the bar when playing his neighborhood gig at the wild and wooly Theresa’s Show Lounge on Indiana and 46th. If the lethal-looking guitar ace with his bolo pulled low took the stage to play his hit single, Junior would relieve the owner Ms. Theresa and draw draughts for the myriad of parched customers.

That night I boogied on the rude slab step of the lounge alongside the slightly unhinged — was it Louisa Ann? — sister of the recently departed Duke of the Slide Earl Hooker. A pair of smirking white patrolmen sidled up to me reaching for handcuffs — until Junior Wells announced “he’s with ME!”

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