When he first recorded at Sun Studios, having been introduced to Sam Phillips by Ike Turner, Wolf was already over forty and up to that point he had been managing a life of farming and performing. Sun licensed his first record, Moanin’ at Midnight, to Chess Records and it became his first hit in 1951.
Wolf put three more records on the Billboard R&B chart in the 1950s, including 'Smokestack Lightning'. He recorded 'Spoonful' in June 1960 with Otis Spann on piano, Hubert Sumlin and Freddie Robinson on guitars, Willie Dixon on bass and drummer Fred Below. Written by Dixon, the doyen of Chicago blues writers, it is based on a Charley Patton song with connections to another by Papa Charlie Jackson – you’ll find it on his 1962 album, Howlin’ Wolf. In the 1960s Cream covered the song on their debut album, Fresh Cream.
In 1969, 'Evil' also made the R & B Top 50 and became the title of his album, the same year. But it wasn’t as a chart artist that Howlin’ Wolf is remembered. He was influential to many aspiring blues musicians, including the Rolling Stones, who took 'Little Red Rooster' to the top of the UK charts.
Wolf had already suffered a heart attack before he visited London to record the London Howlin Wolf Sessions album and following a car accident in 1971 his health went steadily downhill and he died in 1976.
“He wasn't just a Blues singer, I mean he was a commander of your soul and he got hold of you with the Blues. The Wolf was a hypnotiser, he hypnotised himself when he opened that mouth and let it loose.” – Sam Phillips
Howlin’ Wolf was born Chester Burnett in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in 1910 – at well over 6ft tall and weighing somewhere close to 300 lbs, he was a powerful man. Charley Patton taught him the guitar, while Wolf learned the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller); although it was Wolf’s singing rather than his playing skills that commanded attention.
Like many before him Wolf started out playing wherever he could, local parties, clubs or just playing on the street. He served in the army during the war, moving to West Memphis at the end of the 1940s to spend a little more time performing rather than farming. He put a band together that included both Little Junior Parker and James Cotton and he secured a regular gig on a KWEM, a West Memphis radio station; he performed and promoted his own live shows.
When he first recorded at Sun Studios, having been introduced to Sam Phillips by Ike Turner, Wolf was already over forty and up to that point he had been managing a life of farming and performing, not necessarily in equal measure. Sam Phillips' masterstroke, was not to over produce but to allow his performers to cut through on record; it was a triumph of spontaneity over technical expertise. Wolf cut 'Moanin’ At Midnight' and 'How Many More Years' which became his first single when Phillips sold the sides to Chess (R&B Chart No.4). Wolf was soon also recording for Modern as well and after some contractual wrangles he ended up with Chess, which is why, soon after, he moved to Chicago where he began the most prolific, and successful, part of his recording career.
By the 1960s, Wolf's chart career was over, but his powerful influence, through his recordings and his live work, continued to be felt. Albums like Moanin' At Midnight and Howlin' Wolf and The Real Folk Blues were keenly studied by younger musicians, especially the white Blues players, both for new material and Wolf’s technique.
Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau, German blues lovers and promoters, created the American Folk Blues Festival in 1962 taking T-Bone Walker, Memphis Slim, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker, Shakey Jake, and Willie Dixon to Germany to play a few dates. The following year, the tour was also taken to Britain for the first time and among those appearing were Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Spann, and Lonnie Johnson. In 1964 Sonny Boy was back along with Sleepy John Estes, Howlin' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, and Lightnin’ Hopkins among the performers; Wolf’s appearance inspired many who were there.
Six weeks before Wolf appeared on stage in England, at the Fairfield Halls, the Rolling Stones went into Regent Sound Studios in London, to record Wolf’s 'Little Red Rooster'. If you play their version right after Howlin' Wolf’s original, it’s like a mirror. Wolf howls, Mick purrs but it’s what the blues are all about. Sex. The Stones single came out a month after the American Folk Blues Festival show in London and went to No.1. For some reason the Stones label in America wouldn’t release it as a single. But in May 1965 they got some kind of revenge when they were invited to play the ShindigTV Show in Hollywood. On the show were Jackie de Shannon, Adam Wade, Sonny & Cher and at the insistence of the Stones, Howlin' Wolf. Today it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of seeing Wolf on what was very much a ‘television show aimed at white kids; this was just two years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I had a dream speech.’
Wolf played the Newport Festival in 1966 and appeared at other festivals throughout the USA. In 1970, he recorded The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions with Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Steve Winwood, Ian Stewart and Bill Wyman. Wolf had already suffered a heart attack and there are signs of his failing health on the recording, but it still proved to be an inspiration for the younger white performers.
Howlin’ Wolf's last performance was in Chicago during November 1975 with B.B. King. At the end of the year he was admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Chicago where they operated on the 65-year-old bluesman, but he died of kidney failure on 10 January 1976.
This, Wolf's last hurrah, is his final studio album. Cut with his regular working band, the Wolf Gang, everything here works well, despite Detroit Junior's annoying use of harpsichord on several tracks. Highlights include Eddie Shaw's "Coon on the Moon," Wolf's own "Moving" and "Stop Using Me," and both takes of "Speak Now Woman." Not the place to start a Wolf collection by any means, but a great place to end up.
Words - Cub Koda
When he first recorded at Sun Studios, having been introduced to Sam Phillips by Ike Turner, Wolf was already over forty and up to that point he had been managing a life of farming and performing, not necessarily in equal measure. Sun licensed his first record, Moanin’ at Midnight, to Chess Records and it became his first hit in 1951 Wolf put three more records on the Billboard R&B chart in the 1950s, including Smokestack Lightning and in 1969 Evil also made the R&B Top 50. But it wasn’t as a chart artist that Howlin’ Wolf is remembered. He, along with his long time guitar player Hubert Sumlin, was influential to many white aspiring blues musicians including the Rolling Stones, who took Little Red Rooster to the top of the UK charts. The version included on this CD was recorded in London in 1970 with Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Stevie Winwood.
Real Folk Blues was originally released by Chess in 1966 to capitalize on the then-current folk music boom. The music, however -- a collection of Howlin' Wolf singles from 1956 to 1966 -- is full-blown electric, featuring a nice sampling of Wolf originals with a smattering of Willie Dixon tunes. Some of the man's best middle period work is aboard here; "Killing Floor," "Louise," the hair-raisingly somber "Natchez Burning," and Wolf's version of the old standard "Sitting on Top of the World," which would become his set closer in later years. More Real Folk Blues was issued in 1967 (after the Wolf had appeared on network television with the Rolling Stones, alluded to in the original liner notes) and couldn't be more dissimilar in content to the first one if you had planned it that way. Whereas the previous volume highlighted middle period Wolf, this one goes all the way back to his earliest Chess sessions, many of which sound like leftover Memphis sides. The chaotic opener, "Just My Kind," sets a familiar Wolf theme to a "Rollin' & Tumblin'" format played at breakneck speed and what the track lacks in fidelity is more than made up in sheer energy. For a classic example of Wolf's ensemble Chicago sound, it's pretty tough to beat "I Have a Little Girl" where the various members of his band seem to be all soloing simultaneously -- not unlike a Dixieland band -- right through Wolf's vocals. For downright scary, the demonic sounding "I'll Be Around" is an absolute must-hear. Wolf's harp solo on this slow blues is one of his best and the vocal that frames it sounds like the microphone is going to explode at any second.
With the exception of a vinyl compilation issued in the early '80s (His Greatest Sides, Vol. 1), there'd never really ever been a single-disc Howlin' Wolf best-of package available. That all changed with this entry in MCA/Chess' 50th Anniversary series, a 20-track retrospective that serves as the perfect introduction to the man and his music, some of the very best the blues has to offer. While some naysayers will always decry the exclusion -- or inclusion -- of any given number of tracks on any artist's best-of compilation, it's pretty hard to fault what's been collected here.
This was Howlin' Wolf's second collection of sides for the Chess label. Packed with great tunes and untouchable performances by the man himself, Moanin'' is almost as good as its predecessor, Wolf's self-titled debut. The last word in electric Chicago blues, Wolf was possessed of fine guitar and harp skills, a voice that could separate skin from bone, and a sheer magnetism and charisma that knew (and has known) no equal. This disc is outstanding throughout, and features some of his best sides, including "How Many More Years," "Smokestack Lightnin', "Evil" and "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)." Highly recommended for the uninitiated and a must for collectors.
A 97-track, four-disc limited-edition box set containing everything the Wolf cut in his first decade of recording. Although the first years of the ‘60s treated him exceptionally well -- many classic sessions arrived in the first few years of the decade, many showcased on 1962’s peerless “rocking chair” album -- this is where his legacy lies: with the spooky, primal howl that kicks off “Moanin’ at Midnight” and the scores of earthy boogies and down-and-dirty grinds that followed. Smokestack Lightning stacks up plenty of alternate takes, a good chunk of them never released in the U.S., but the repetition doesn’t slow the set down or turn it repetitive. Instead, the repeated alternate takes sit well with the treasures -- many justly celebrated, some unearthed -- all adding up to a testament to Howlin' Wolf’s unearthly, mighty force.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In May 1970, 59 year old Howlin’ Wolf went to London to record an album for Chess Records with some of the British musicians who revered the man. Engineered and produced by Glyn Johns it was him that called Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and Stevie Winwood to do the session at Olympic Studios. It was recorded over two days and one of the highlights is Wolf teaching Eric how to play Little Red Rooster. Clapton was not getting the subtleties of Wolf and Hubert Sumlin, his long time guitar player, rhythms. You hear Clapton say to Wolf, “Well its your record, you do it and I’ll play along with you.” Wolf replys “No, man, you play it, somebody gotta carry it on after me”. According to Bill Wyman, “He still had the sense of presence that Sam Phillips talked about. It was a difficult session, as most of us were playing together for the first time. Much as we all knew and loved all the songs we had all played them in other ways. It was difficult to create the right dynamics.”