Happy Birthday to the Mighty Wolf, Chester Burnett, who would have been 105 today. Howlin' Wolf was first recorded by Sun Records founder Sam Phillips in the early 50s in Memphis, who told author Peter Guralnick, "when I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'
" And today, the mighty Wolf still inspires, still mesmerizes, and still entertains--in a mighty way.
In his prime, Wolf would climb curtains, pound walls, and tail-drag around a stage--anything to engage the audience ("The Wolf knows baby!"
) At over 6ft tall and close to 300 pounds ("of heavenly joy
" as he used to sing), his presence was as commanding as his voice, a bizarre but wonderful combination of Charlie Patton and the singing brakeman, fellow Mississippian Jimmie Rodgers.
The Wolf was proud, independent, hard working, but foremost he was one of the greatest American voices we'll ever know. Only a fraction of his song catalog ever made it to tape but we can be thankful for what we have. The word really got out about Wolf after he had already been on the scene for a decade. The Rolling Stones, who recorded several albums at Chess Studios in Chicago, introduced British audiences to The Wolf on his inaugural trip to the UK. His axe for the trip? A Casino, of course!
Look for Peter Guralnick's biography of Sun Records producer Sam Phillips in 2015 and in the meantime, pitch a Wang Dang Doodle for the Howlin' Wolf.