Howlin’ Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett in White Station, Mississippi, on the 10th of June, 1910.
Even as a young man he stood well over 6 feet and weighed a hulking 125kg, his intimidating size earned him the nicknames “Big Foot Chester” and “Bull Cow”.
He claimed to have received his famous name from his Grandfather who told him stories of wild wolves that roamed the country side, he warned him that if he misbehaved “the howlin’ wolf’s” would eat him.
The most popular blues musician during the early 1930’s in the Mississippi Delta was Charlie Patton. Howlin’ Wolf would regularly listen in to Charlie playing outside of local juke joints. Not long after this the two become friends and Charlie began teaching Howlin’ Wolf how to play the guitar and also gave him lessons on showmanship.
Charlie Patton would often throw the guitar around his shoulders, play it between his legs and throw it up in the air while performing. These are all stage moves that he inherited and used during live performances throughout his entire career.
When He moved to Parkin, Arkansas, in 1933, he became acquaintances with Sonny Boy Williamson the 2nd who taught him how to play the harmonica, giving him lessons on his distinctive blues style.
In 1951 he become a celebrity within his local area after recording a couple of different tracks with Sam Phillips at Memphis Recording Service.
Soon after Howlin’ Wolf released “How Many More Years” with Chess Records beginning his career as a prominent blues pioneer.
Techniques And Musical Concepts They Popularised
Howlin’ Wolf’s raw growling vocals, trademark howling falsetto notes, chugging blues harp and distinctive guitar playing created a powerful blues force that contributed greatly to both the blues and rock music worlds.
Howlin’ Wolf’s musical style was also paramount in breaching the gap between country blues and urban blues.
Howlin’ Wolf developed his signature voice attempting the “Blue Yodel” popularised by such country singers as Jimmie Rodgers, Howlin’ Wolf found that his yodel sounded more like a howl and decided to integrate it into his singing style.
Notable Rock Guitar Players They Influenced
Howlin’ Wolf is another of the blues most influential artists.
During the 1960’s blues artists developed an enthusiastic audience especially in the UK, during this time he was one of the most popular acts.
In 1965 he performed on the popular TV show “Shindig!” along with The Rolling Stones who enthusiastically welcomed his performance.
The Rolling Stones also recorded a cover of his classic “Little Red Rooster” that reached number one on the charts in 1964.
In 1971 Howlin’ Wolf released an album of songs with guest musicians entitled “The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions”. The guest musicians included some of the biggest names in rock music like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman.
Jimi Hendrix would often cover the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Killing Floor”, he performed this track during the famous occasion when he sat in with Cream in 1966.
Led Zeppelin would also frequently cover “Killing Floor” during their earlier years between 1968 and 1969. “Killing Floor” become the inspiration for “The Lemon Song” that appeared on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 album “Led Zeppelin II”.
Another iconic rock band that covered one of Howlin’ Wolf’s classic tracks was “Cream”, their powerful upbeat version of the classic song “Spoonful” appeared on their 1966 debut album “Fresh Cream”.
Other notable rock acts who have covered Howlin’ Wolfs songs include; The Yardbirds, The Doors, Jeff Beck to name a few.
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