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Howlin' Wolf Profile

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Howlin' Wolf

Howlin' Wolf

Photo copyright Sandy Guy Schoenfeld, courtesy Universal Music

Howlin' Wolf Profile:

Born: June 10, 1910 in West Point MS

Died: January 10, 1976 in Hines IL

Chester Arthur Burnett, a/k/a Howlin' Wolf, was less an artist and musician than a primal force of nature. With a deep, powerful voice and large physical presence, few contemporaries could match his onstage charisma and showmanship. Even on record, he would pound out the blues like nobody else. Only Muddy Waters was Wolf's equal, and the professional rivalry between the two friends was the stuff of legend.

West Memphis Blues

A chance meeting with bluesman Charley Patton turned the young Wolf to the blues. His early performing style mimicked that of Patton's, and Wolf picked up his harmonica skills from relative-by-marriage Sonny Boy Williamson II. After serving in the army, Wolf settled down in West Memphis, Arkansas, farming and playing music on the weekends.

Wolf began hosting a 15-minute morning radio show in 1948, playing music and hyping upcoming performances in between farm reports. Wolf changed his style to an aggressive electric sound, and began recording with producer Sam Phillips in 1951. He scored hits with two different record labels, leading to a deal with Chess Records. Wolf made his way to Chicago in 1953.

It was in Chicago that Wolf hooked up with guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who would be his musical foil throughout the rest of his career. Wolf's records for Chess during the 1950s sold moderately well, but songs like "Evil" and "Little Red Rooster" have become part of the blues lexicon. When Chess teamed the singer with writer Willie Dixon, sparks flew, and Wolf recorded a number of Dixon-penned hits throughout the early-1960s.

The London Sessions

Howlin' Wolf's tough, robust sound appealed to young British rockers, especially the Rolling Stones, who asked that Wolf be their guest during the band's appearance on the popular TV show Shindig. The Doors, Cream, and Jeff Beck, among others, all recorded Howlin' Wolf songs.

In 1970, Chess sent Wolf to London to record The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions with acolytes like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Stones. Although critically-maligned, the album introduced Wolf to a larger rock audience.

Recommended Albums: No doubt about it, Howlin' Wolf's His Best is the place to start, featuring 20 classic performances, almost half of them Willie Dixon songs.

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