Howlin’ Wolf, was born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. He possessed one of the most appropriate stage monikers in the history of American music. His voice had the growl that bought to mind a wolf howling at the moon. But he would also alternate that growl with a falsetto moan that is nothing short of erie. Howlin’ Wolf was a physically massive man who played great harmonica and slide guitar, was a severe taskmaster as a band leader, and a great showman who ran one of the better organized bands in the great period of Post World War II Chicago Blues. His recordings for Sun Records and, more predominately, Chess Records are a testament to strength and durability of the human spirit.

From 1952 till 1958 Howlin Wolf’s first recordings were mainly 78 and, later, 45 RPM singles. In 1959, Chess records released his first full length album called “Moaning in the Moonlight.” The album was comprised of songs from his first singles recorded with Sam Phillips of Sun records (Like 1951’s “How Many More Years”) to the haunting “Smokestack Lightnin.” With the exception of the song “Evil”(Written by Willie Dixon) all of the songs on this album were written by Howlin’ Wolf.

For the guitar player this album is a treasure chest of great guitar tones with great playing by early Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson and the totally his own man approach of Hubert Sumlin. The more I know about Howlin’ Wolf the more impressed I am with him. He was not only a distinctive vocalist, musician, and showman, but he was also a dedicated family man and was such an organized bandleader that he actually paid for his musician’s unemployment insurance. His death on January 10, 1976 has left a void in the world of the Blues that has yet to be filled.

My three favorite tracks on this album:

1. How Many More Years
2. Smokestack Lightnin’
3. Evil

Youtube Video Reviews:

1. “How Many More Years,” was originally recorded at Sun Records in Memphis Tennessee in May of 1951. It features the wonderfully overdriven tone of guitarist Willie Johnson, the barrelhouse piano of Ike Turner ( Of Ike and Tina Turner fame) and the great pounding drums of Willie Steele. For our version we are going to use the May 20, 1965 version that was broadcast on television from the show “Shindig.” Also appearing on this show were The Rolling Stones. Legend has it that The Rolling Stones refused to do the show unless they could bring Howlin’ Wolf on as their guest. Also of note, for this version ,is back-up guitar work of genius guitarist James Burton and pianist Billy Preston.

2. “Smokestack Lightnin,” is partially a literal ode to the coal smoke fire that appeared  to be “Shining like gold” and to the dark feelings of jealousy that leave this mighty wolf howling. This is from the original “Moaning in the Moonlight” album.

3. “Evil,” is the only non-original song on this album. This great Willie Dixon song warns the singer that they need to watch their happy home for romantic rivals appear at every turn. This is a rare  live version that is in color.