Howlin’ Wolf: American Blues Legends Series
Howlin’ Wolf is a legend of the Chicago Blues. Wolf was an imposing figure standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing close to 300 pounds with an intimidatingly booming, raspy voice. His delivery is a distinctive howl, a technique he developed from trying to imitate his childhood idol, country star Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers is known for his signature bluesish-yodel. According to the artist, “I couldn’t do no yodelin’, so I turned to howlin’. And it’s done me just fine.”
No one could match Howlin’ Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits.Cub Koda
Howlin’ Wolf Gets His Name
He was born Chester Arthur Burnett in 1910, on a plantation in White Station, Mississippi. His nickname came from his grandfather, who tells him stories of howling wolves that would get him if he acted up. Once, when something scared him, he ran howling upstairs, which prompted his family to nickname him Howlin’ Wolf. At an early age, sadly, Wolf’s mother kicks him out, and the young boy moved in with his great-uncle. It’s there he learns to play a one-string “diddley bow” and harmonica. Life was hard with his great-uncle. When he was 13, he jumps a train to the Delta, eventually leading to a reunion with his father.
Wolf Plays the Delta Blues
In 1928, his father bought Wolf his first guitar, and he begins to play locally. Burnett soon falls under the wing of blues pioneer Charley Patton. Patton helps him perfect his showmanship and teaches him songs that Wolf would later record. Wolf performed throughout the Delta with bluesmen including Floyd Jones, Sonny Williamson II, Johnny Shines, and the mysterious Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson. Although he played, he worked primarily as a farmer until his father’s passing in 1949. It is then he becomes a full-time musician forming a group, which included James Cotton, Junior Parker, and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy.
After his first record, “Moanin’ at Midnight” (1951), became a hit, Wolf moves to Chicago. Known for being thrifty with money, with $4,000 in his pocket he drives his car on the so-called “Blues Highway” to Chicago. Something he claims other musicians couldn’t afford to do.
In Chicago, much like Muddy Waters, he helped to transform the Delta Blues into the electric Chicago sound. His stage presence, unique voice, and delivery made him a favorite with blues audiences. In addition, he recorded 5 top 40 R&B hits but remained mostly unknown outside of blues world until the revival of the blues in the late 50s and early 60s.
The revival led to young white audiences discovering his music. After that, he takes advantage of his newfound notoriety, toured Europe, and in 1965, he appeared on the popular British television program Shindig!. The show scheduled Howlin’ Wolf at the request of the Rolling Stones, who would only appear if he did. Earlier in 1964, the band recorded Wolf’s song “Little Red Rooster” reaching number one in the UK.
He went on to record through the 70s, before passing away in 1976. He recorded with countless artists, including Muddy Waters, Steve Winwood, Bo Diddley, and Eric Clapton. His inclusion into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 validates his contribution to music.