Foree Wells, Jr.
One of the major purposes of the KBS is to memorialize bluesmen. KBS established a memorial fund in order to raise money to place a nice headstone at Foree's grave site in Calvary Cemetery, the stone was laid and a dedication ceremony was held on October 17, 1999. You helped us place a headstone at the previously unmarked grave of Sylvester Weaver in Louisville Cemetery, and you have helped us raise funds to provide a foundation for the military headstone at the grave of guitarist Bill Gaither in the New Crown Cemetery in Indianapolis. And now you have come through with Foree's headstone. Thanks to all of you who donated.
Thanks for your care and your support.
Biography Submitted by Brenda Bogert
Some people get up to play the blues and think that all you do is play three changes. Theres more to it than that. The blues is a feeling. Those are the words of a man who played the blues for fifty years. From Walnut Street to Beale Street, Foree Wells, Jr. knew that feeling. He was a true bluesman in every sense of the word.
Foree was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 10, 1936, into a family of music lovers. Both his father and grandfather played country music and blues. At age nine Foree taught himself to play guitar, starting out playing country tunes made popular by Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, Spade Cooley, Hank Snow and Cowboy Copas. By age eleven, he was part of the Alvin Thomas Band, which included Alvin, Foree and their schoolmates.
In 1953 he joined the Morgan Brother Band, one of Louisvilles most popular post-war blues bands. It was there that he met Arthur Eggie Porter, who later became guitarist for Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. For Foree, Eggie was the first guy to actually show me anything about guitars. I learned everything he could play, then I began showing HIM things. He was my biggest influence, I believe.
Another major influence came via the airwaves: I listened to B. B. King. They didnt play him in Louisville too much. You had to listen to him on the radio - from Nashville, WLAC. And Id be sitting with my guitar every night when it came on at ten oclock, waiting for them to play a B. B. King song. They couldnt even get his records here. The 1953 release of Please Love Me, Kings first big hit, was a turning point. Every jukebox everywhere youd go in town would be playing it. It made me buy a Stratocaster.
During this time Foree was spending his weekends playing out of town. His travels took him to Clarksville (Tennessee), Nashville and, eventually, Memphis, where he decided to stay. Less than two weeks after arriving, he was working a gig, playing a B. B. King song, when he looked up and saw King come into the bar, pull up a chair next to the bandstand and sit down with his feet propped up on the stage. When the set ended, Foree approached his idol and apologized. He was surprised at Kings response, He said, I dont want you to apologize. I want to hear you play that. Youre playing my stuff. I love it. The two got to be friends. Whenever they were both in Memphis, staying at Mitchells Motel, B. B. would teach Foree his songs and techniques. Looking back, Foree commented, B. B.s, I guess, about the best inspiration anybody could have.
In Memphis Foree became a session man, playing and recording with Bobby Bland, Jimmy Witherspoon, Rosco Gordon, Arthur Gunter, Tuff Green, and the Kid King Combo, among others. He played in bands fronted by Earl Forrest and Bill Harvey. Harvey had his tunes arranged on charts for the band members. According to Foree, Every night was a school.
In 1956 Foree returned to Louisville, married his wife Lorene and got a job with L&N. He also became a bandleader, fronting the Foree Wells Combo and, later, the Rockin Redcoats, which featured Louisville guitarist, June Smoketown Red Downs. The band played at all the hot clubs in town: the Top Hat, the Diamond Horseshoe, Harrys and Club 36. Foree remembered, The worst place I ever played was Club 36. The first night I went in there, we played in the garden and I had beer bottles coming out of the door over the top of my head. I turned around to get back in the car. They had to pull me back in to come and play the job.
Most of the action in Louisville took place on Walnut Street. It had more action going on than Beale Street. They had entertainment all up and down the street and it never shut down. The restaurants and things stayed open 24 hours a day - people walking up and down the street all night long - 24 hours a day! And jukeboxes would be going on all night long. Thats the way it was then. That was from 6th Street way down to 13th. Then it started again at 16th. Thats where there was another place called Jacks Chauffers Club.
Foree and the Rockin Redcoats played together for about seven years. Eventually members left the band and finally Foree was left alone. During the day he worked for the railroad. At night he played solo, accompanying himself on his Hammond B-3 organ, in Holiday Inn lounges. After several years, he got burnt out and retired from performing.
Louisville musician and author Winston Hardy coaxed him out of retirement to play with his band for one month. That one month turned into four years. According to Foree, He demanded that I play guitar. I hadnt played in years. I had been sitting at the keyboard - easiest job in the worked, playing singles.
When Foree left Winston he formed the Walnut Street Blues Band with his sons Michael (guitar), Greg (keyboard and horns) and Foree III (drums), and enjoyed playing around town and at regional blues festivals. He and his sons were awaiting the release of their Rooster Records album Its a New Day, Brother when Foree was suddenly struck ill just before Christmas 1996. He passed away on January 8, 1997.
His death was a shock to all who knew him, especially his second family - the Kentuckiana Blues Society. Foree was one of the founding members of the KBS when it was created informally in 1988. He was named treasurer when the KBS was incorporated in 1989 and held that position until his death. Foree gave the KBS its heart and soul. He knew a lot about music and a lot about the history of the blues in Louisville. He entertained us with his music, his knowledge and his stories. He loaned us his talent, his PA equipment and even his money.
* Calvary Cemetary * October 17, 1999 *
(written by Keith Clements)
Foree was affectionately known as the "Godfather of Louisville Blues". His friendly disposition, openness to musicians and friends and his dedication to the blues were his trademarks that made him respected by everyone. Foree lived most of his 60 years in Louisville except for a brief period of time in the 50's when he was in Memphis recording for Sun Studios and hanging out with the Beale Streeters. Foree first learned the play the guitar performing with the Morgan Brothers. After he returned from Memphis he married Lorene in 1957 and formed the group called the Rockin' Redcoats. His three sons, Foree III, Greg and Michael all became musicians under Foree's tutelage and they formed the nucleus of the Walnut Street Blues Band. Foree was one of the founding members of the Kentuckiana Blues Society and served as treasurer during its formative years. He received the Sylvester Weaver Award in 1991 and had recorded the CD, "It's a New Day, Brother", which unfortunately was never released. Foree had retired from CSX railroad and was member of the Screaming Eagles Motorcycle Club. Foree's distinctive 50's Memphis sytle of blues left a major void in Louisville's blues scene and in the hearts of all his friends. So long Brother.
Lorene was always supportive of her husband, Foree, and her three sons, Foree III, Greg and Michael, in their musical careers. She was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana and attended Taylor High School and Jeffersonville High School. She and Foree were married in 1957. Lorene managed the Walnut Street Blues Band and was a longstanding board member of the Kentuckiana Blues Society. Her practical common sense often brought us back on track and to reality during our meetings. Lorene was an active member of her church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. She showed great courage and strength during the illness of her last few years and was in inspiration to all. Lorene's last statement in her prayers was, "Walnut Street Blues Band, don't stop the music."
A few KBS board members, society members, family and friends gathered at the Calvary Cemetery graveside of Foree and Lorene on a chilly and damp Sunday, October 17th, 1999 to dedicate the headstone that was paid for by donations from society members, blues fans, friends and family. On the back of the headstone and beneath the inscription are the L&N, KBS and Screaming Eagles Motorcycle Club logos. (from the November 1999 "Blues News" by Paul Schneider)
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First Published: 06 Feb 1998 * Last Revised: 31 Jul 2018
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