44 years since the death of Howlin ‘Wolf
• wildcat.elmercuriodigital ▫ Chester Arthur Burnett (White Station, June 10, 1910 – Hines, January 10, 1976), better known as Howlin ‘Wolf, Afro-American blues singer-guitarist and harmonica player, was for his voice and physical presence At 1.98m tall and about 136kg in weight, a memorable figure among all Chicago blues singers of the 1950s.
His voice has been compared to “the sound of road rollers on a gravel road.” Together with his contemporary Muddy Waters, they formed the two mainstays of the Memphis blues.
The son of a family of cotton planters, Howlin ‘Wolf worked as a farmer in the 1930s, being one of the pioneers among the blacks who emigrated to Chicago in the 1940s, while always maintaining his roots.
The origin of his nickname comes from how much his grandfather told him stories about wolves from that part of the country. He warned him that if he misbehaved the wolves would come howling to look for him.
His parents separated when he was still very young. His mother Gertrudis, very religious, kicked him out of the house while he was still a child for refusing to work on the farm. So she went to live with her uncle, Will Young, who abused her. When he was 13 years old, he ran away and they say he walked 85 miles (137 km) barefoot to join his father.
When he achieved success, he returned from Chicago to his hometown to see his mother, but she turned him down again and refused to take any money he offered, saying that his music was devil’s music.
In 1948 he formed a band with guitarists such as Willie Johnson and MT Murphy, harmonica player Junior Parker, a pianist named Destruction, and drummer Willie Steele, and in 1951 he began performing in Arkansas.
His 1962 album Rockin ‘Chair Album is one of the most famous blues records and is especially known for his cover illustration featuring a rocking chair. The album contained songs like “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Goin ‘Down Slow,” “Spoonful” and “The Red Rooster”, songs that served as the basis for the repertoires of the English and American bands who follow the Chicago blues.
In 1965 he appeared on the television show Shindig along with the Rolling Stones.
Already in 1972 Wolf gave several concerts in Chicago that were recorded by the Chess record company on his album Live and Cookin ‘and in 1973 he produced his last album The Back Door Wolf.
His album London Sessions had a special impact, recorded in London with a super-band of British stars (Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman) and their inseparable Hubert Sumlin.
His inimitable style, endowed with a rudimentary musical technique (both on the harmonica and on the slide guitar), his peculiar sense of tempo and his howls (as in the famous “Smokestack Lightning”) always gave his performances an unequaled vigor.
The psychedelic rock of the sixties had in Howlin ‘Wolf one of its maximum inspirers. Jimi Hendrix began his performance at the Monterrey festival in 1967 (his first appearance at the level of the big stars) with a frenzied version of a Howlin ‘Wolf classic, “Killing floor.” The Creams turned into success another of Howlin ‘Wolf’s great pieces (although composed by Willie Dixon), the feverish “Spoonful”, and the Californians Grateful Dead also bequeathed a remembered recreation of “Sittin’ on the top of the world”.
The Doors covered “Back door Man” and the Rolling Stones had some of their earliest hits with the ineffable “Little red rooster.” The vocal style of John Fogerty, lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, also owes much to Howlin ‘Wolf, which is evident in the group’s songs such as “The Graveyard Train” among others.
Howlin ‘Wolf died of cancer at Veterans Hospital in Hines, Illinois, on January 10, 1976.