This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
From the Cream of the Crate Collection – This will be an on-going item as I work through my vinyl album collection and identify those in the collection that are simply irreplaceable, and simply a classic in their genre!
The first is a tribute to the influence of the Blues Masters. It may not be the last, but it should be the first.
This was the first Blues album I ever bought, back in 1966. I was pretty slow in picking up on the “Blues”, but the Wolf converted me immediately.
Real Folk Blues was released by Chess in 1966 -LP-1502 and advertised in High Fidelity, to capitalise on the then-current folk music boom.
Howling Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett : 1910 – 1976).
When Burnett was a child his grandfather told him stories of the wolves in Mississippi, generally making the stories as scary as possible.
The story goes that one day, while still a boy, something scared him and he ran howling upstairs. This led to his family nicknaming him Howlin’ Wolf.
Wolf’s father presented him with his first guitar when he was eighteen.
With the exception of the World War I years, during which Wolf served in the Army and was stationed at Seattle, Washington, he spent most of his adult life (until the age of 38) farming in Arkansas and Mississippi. It wasn’t until his father’s death in 1949 that he devoted himself entirely to the blues.
Yet as strange as it seems his childhood idol was singer Jimmie Rodgers, who was noted for his “blues-yodel.” When Wolf tried to emulate the yodel he found that his efforts sounded more like a growl or a howl.
Undeterred the more he sang the more he used this feature.
The Wolf never read music, he would just sit on a metal chair in the studio, wearing big horn-rimmed glasses, shirt open, cradling a beat-up guitar, playing according to what sounded right to him.
He recorded no less than 25 major works with Real Folk Blues being the first.
The music, however, really is a collection of Howling Wolf singles from 1956 to 1966 and is full-blown electric, featuring a nice sampling of Wolf originals with a smattering of Willie Dixon tunes.
Some of the man’s best middle period work is aboard here; “Killing Floor,” “Louise,” the hair-raisingly somber “Natchez Burning,” and Wolf’s version of the old standard “Sitting on Top of the World“.
Many of the tracks feature the little recognised blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin (a great artist in his own right), whose distinctive guitar sound became so synonymous with the sound of the Wolf.
When he was inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” in 1991, it was said, “Howlin’ Wolf ranks among the most electrifying performers in blues history, as well as one of its greatest characters. He was a ferocious, full-bodied singer whose gruff, rasping vocals embodied the blues at its most unbridled.”
Howlin’ Wolf died of complications arising from kidney disease on January 10, 1976, in a Chicago hospital; he was sixty-five.
This album has pride of place in my collection, it is an original pressing and whilst the Wolf put out many incredible albums (the first in 1959), I believe the selection of pieces on this album makes it most noteworthy, and in my mind, his finest album.
The Real Folk Blues (Chess LP-1502)
1. Killing Floor
3. Poor Boy
4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
6. My Country Sugar Mama (a.k.a. Sugar Mama)
7. Tail Dragger
8. Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy
9. Natchez Burning
10. Built For Comfort
11. Ooh Baby, Hold Me
12. Tell Me What I’ve Done
Just one track to listen to. Three Hundred Pounds of Joy has it all. In this case the Wolf makes it perfectly clear – BIG is BEAUTIFUL!
Fabulous Wolf delivery and subtle but beautiful guitar work from Hubert Sumlin.
Three Hundred Pounds of Joy
The album can be found online but will cost you Au$60 upwards.
There are not many live performances of Howling Wolf – sadly! Here are a couple that might best demonstrate the great Wolf live.
How many more days