Across the history of found albums and “lost” albums there are a lot of incredible stories of tapes appearing out of nowhere, in dumpsters, in basements after decades. But there are maybe few as nutty as the story of Mojo Workin’, the recently unearthed album from harmonica blues-slayer George “Mojo” Buford.
When he was compiling Bird Call! The Twin City Stomp Of The Trashmen, a 4-CD boxset on the seminal Minneapolis garage-rockers the Trashmen, band historian Mike Jann stumbled upon some reels from three sessions in 1969 that were recorded in Minneapolis with Buford’s live band. The sessions had eight songs, and included takes of Mojo’s signature song, “Got My Mojo Workin’,” among others.
It might seem incongruous that Buford’s tapes would be in a vault for a Minneapolis rock band probably most famously known in 2020 for being featured heavily on Family Guy. But Buford actually picked up his nickname in the larger Twin City, as he relocated to the city in the early ’60s after stops in Memphis and Chicago, in order to put his own band together. Buford had done time slinging the harp for Muddy after Little Walter embarked on his own career, and Buford thought he could do the same. Once he started playing the Twin Cities circuit, her repeatedly got requests to play “Got My Mojo Workin’,” his signature song as a solo act and as Muddy’s harmonica-man, and eventually Mojo stuck as his name.
Buford would eventually end up having a tidy career playing juke joints from his home base up north, and put out a few exceedingly rare solo LPs in the early ’60s, before eventually rejoining with Muddy’s crew in the early ’70s. But Mojo Workin’ was recorded in between there, when the lead guitarist of the Trashmen got him into a Minneapolis studio to lay down some tracks. The album was never released — Mojo was in-between labels and wouldn’t release his own work between 1964 and 1979 — and sat on a shelf until Jann found it.
The songs on the album are culled mostly from Buford’s live act at the time, including Otis Spann’s “Blues is a Botheration,” Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Help Me,” and “Love Without Jealousy,” a Buford song that ended up on Mud in Your Ear, after Buford rejoined Muddy’s band. “Lost Love,” a Buford original, is the lead single from the album, and you can hear it below:
Mojo Workin’ stands as a reminder that there are so many blues albums still out there waiting for rediscovery, and that there might be reels from the greats just sitting on shelves. It also speaks to the legacy of Minneapolis on the blues; when Chicago got too crowded, Buford came to the Twin Cities, and made incredible music.
You can buy the VMP exclusive edition of this album right here.