Did you know that the late, great Junior Wells, who was one of the pioneers of the blues harp style associated with the “Chicago Blues” sound, was buried with a tray of Lee Oskar harmonicas?! Junior played Lee Oskar harmonicas for a long time, and he and Lee knew each other as musical friends for several years leading up to his passing in 1998.
In fact, Lee performed a memorial tribute to Junior in church during his funeral. As Junior’s family member commented, “Jr. Wells was buried with Lee Oskar harmonicas. I know this to be a fact because I was there at the funeral. Mr. Oskar also played the most beautiful song (solo). I have never heard a harp played that way before. I would like to thank him for being his friend and honoring us with his presence. I miss him every day, but his fans and friends help keep him alive for our family. May God bless and keep all of you.”
In Lee’s words, “I was a huge fan of Junior Wells, and from the time that I first heard him perform when I came to America, I was blown away by his playing. I believe he was an early influence on me back then. He was a truly great performer, singer and harmonica player, but even more than that, he was a very kind, generous and approachable individual. He always made a point to connect with me whenever we were performing in the same area. When I found out that he was buried with Lee Oskar harmonicas, I was truly touched. I miss Junior, and I smile every time I think of him.”
Junior Wells was a prolific songwriter, vocalist and harmonica player who learned to play the harmonica by the age of seven years old. He made his first recordings in 1952 when he replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters’s band and played on one of Waters’s sessions for Chess Records. He went on to perform and record more than forty recordings, including several with Buddy Guy in particular, as well as Muddy Waters and Earl Hooker. He remained a fixture on the American blues scene throughout his long career and crossed over to rock audiences while touring with the Rolling Stones. Blues historian Gerard Herzhaft called him “one of the rare active survivors of the ‘golden age of the blues.’”
In honor of Junior Wells, and in recognition of his talents and special relationship to Lee Oskar Harmonicas and Lee, we are pleased to name him a Lee Oskar Harmonicas Featured Artist in memoriam.