This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Howlin' Wolf

There's so much to say about Howlin' Wolf. He's certainly one of the greatest American musical figures of all time. He drug the prewar showmanship of Charley Patton kicking and screaming into the 20th century. Along with Muddy Waters, he plugged and made the blues electric. He was the connsumate showman, often going into the audience and unleashing the fury and passion of his music inches from their faces - a frightening prospect when you consider he was 6' 3", weighed 300 lbs. (as he sang, "I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed"), had big bug eyes, and lived up to the "Howlin'" part of his name.

Unlike almost every other legendary bluesman from the prewar era to the end of the Chess era, Wolf wasn't proficient with the guitar, and while decent on the harmonica, wasn't in the same league as a Little Walter or Sonny Terry. This was due largely to his size; there are pictures of Wolf holding a full-sized electric guitar and making it seem no bigger than a ukelele, his massive frame dwarfing everything around him. However, what makes Wolf stand out from the pack is his incredible voice. Sam Phillips once said Wolf's voice was "where the soul of man never dies," and that about covers it. It's a raging storm, the kind that would have kicked King Lear's ass from here to Jersey. Hell hath no fury like Howlin' Wolf unleashed. He's easily my favorite blues singer.

"Smokestack Lightnin'" is his masterpiece and one of the greatest songs ever written. It's as iconic a piece of work as "This Land is Your Land" or "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" Wolf lived the lyrics, fleeing an abusive home by hopping trains when he was a youngster. The internal emotional conflict that he experienced is what drives the song, and you feel it in every pained note he yelps.

If I posted every single Howlin' Wolf song I loved, this entry would go on forever. I leave you with a few choice cuts in the hopes that they make you want to seek out the rest of his catalogue. "Evil," "Back Door Man" "Shake For Me" "Natchez Burnin' Down," "Goin' Down Slow," "The Red Rooster," "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)," "Moanin' at Midnight," and so on, stand as some of the best songs ever recorded in any genre. If you ever doubt that rock 'n' roll came from the blues, give Howlin' Wolf a listen and get back to me.


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