cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf –  the london sessions

cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
Front Cover – [CLICK to open]
 

 

  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.

"The unadulterated success of this disc is due to the Wolf's still-brooding, blues-malevolent vocal expertise." - [Rolling Stone 1971 review] _ "No single Chicago bluesman exerted a stronger influence on the '60s Anglo rock brigade than Howlin' Wolf." - [Don Snowden - liner notes]

Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews.  
The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50
and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.

This is number sixteen in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

This is a single stand-alone CD with very little airs and graces, yet in many ways it was a seminal album at the time of its release.

Titled, The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, it was released on the Chess label, originally as a vinyl LP in the summer of 1971 on Chess Records, catalog CH 60008, and it was re-released on CD in 1989 on the Chess MCA label (CHD-9297).

cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The English LP release actually was released on the Rolling Stones Records label.

There was also a 2003 ‘delux’ release with two additional tracks not released on the original vinyl or CD releases.

Rear of the CD Booklet

 

The reason I believe this album was, and indeed still is seminal, was that it bought together possibly one of the two greatest Chicago blues players of all time and some of the cream of the British white musicians of the day, many of whom had totally embraced the blues genre.

This meeting of the best of the ‘black and white’ blues players resulted in a fabulous album, rich with passion and superb in outcome!

Incidentally the other being Muddy Waters who recorded his own ‘London Sessions‘ in 1972.

Although both Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry followed suite and made excellent recordings, in my mind this is the best of the three sessions and it’s will never be done again!

The list of musicians on this album reads like a veritable whose who of the best! In addition to the great Howlin’ Wolf there was:

  • Eric Clapton (lead guitar)
  • Steve Winwood (piano & organ)
  • Bill Wyman (bass)
  • Charlie Watts (drums and percussion)
  • Hubert Sumlin (rhythm guitar)
  • Jeffrey Carpe (harmonica)
  • Ian Stewart (piano)
  • Klaus Voorman (bass)
  • Phil Upchurch (bass)
  • Lafayette Leake (piano)


The album was Engineered by Glyn Johns who worked with many of the best, including, Bob Dylan, the Easybeats, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who & Led Zepplin, just to name very few.

It was recorded in London and remixed in Chicago. The album producer was Norman Dayron who was Chess Records staff producer.

The tracks that were eventually released on this recording reads like part of the “Howling Wolf Song-book“, which probably comes as no surprise.

SIDE 1

  1. “Rockin’ Daddy” – 3:43 (recorded May 4, 1970)
    • Howlin’ Wolf – vocal; Hubert Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Eric Clapton – lead guitar; Ian Stewart – piano; Phil Upchurch – bass; Charlie Watts – drums.
  2. I Ain’t Superstitious” (Willie Dixon) – 3:34 (recorded May 2, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Steve Winwood – piano; Klaus Voormann – bass; Ringo Starr – drums; Jordan Sandke – trumpet; Dennis Lansing – tenor saxophone; Joe Miller – baritone saxophone; Bill Wyman – cowbell.[9]
  3. Sittin’ On Top Of The World” – 3:51 (recorded May 6, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Jeffrey Carp – harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Lafayette Leake – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
  4. Worried About My Baby” – 2:55 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal, harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Leake – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
  5. What A Woman!” (James Oden) – 3:02 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Carp – harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Winwood – organ; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
  6. Poor Boy” – 3:04 (recorded May 4, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Carp – harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Winwood – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.

SIDE 2

  1. Built For Comfort” (Dixon) – 2:08 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Stewart – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums; Sandke – trumpet; Lansing, Miller – saxophones
  2. Who’s Been Talking?” – 3:02 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal, harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; John Simon – piano; Winwood – organ; Wyman – bass, shaker; Watts – drums, conga, percussion.
  3. The Red Rooster (Rehearsal)” – 1:58 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; guitar; other personnel as below
  4. The Red Rooster” (Willie Dixon) – 3:47 (recorded May 7, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Leake – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
  5. Do The Do” (Willie Dixon) – 2:18 (recorded May 6, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Stewart – piano; Wyman – bass, cowbell; Watts – drums.
  6. Highway 49” (Joe Lee Williams) – 2:45 (recorded May 6, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Carp – harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Winwood – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
  7. Wang-Dang-Doodle” (Willie Dixon) – 3:27 (recorded May 4, 1970)
    • Wolf – vocal; Carp – harmonica; Sumlin – rhythm guitar; Clapton – lead guitar; Stewart – piano; Wyman – bass; Watts – drums.
cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
Rear of the CD Cover: Track Listing [ CLICK to enlarge]

 

There is a basic booklet that comes with the CD and while it is better than most single CD notes, there is nothing spectacular at the same time.

Don Snowden, who has written cover notes for many re-released albums and who is Co-author of I Am The Blues: The Willie Dixon Story by Willie Dixon, provides 3 pages of background information.

In addition there are two pages of track listings and credits.

Snowden commences his writing in this booklet by saying, “No single Chicago bluesman exerted a stronger influence on the ’60s Anglo rock brigade than Howling Wolf.”

cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
The Front of the CD Booklet opened out (Right side and the rear of the CD booklet Left side) – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The fact that the British A – list showed up at London’s Olympic Sound Studio, would certainly reinforce this statement.

It was the opportunity for them to pay appropriate homage to this giant of a man and the music that was laid down behind the all-powerful Wolf vocals, reeks of respect.

 

Track # 1Rockin’ Daddy.

It’s unadulterated blues and it showed that the Wolf could not only write great uptempo music, but could belt it out vocal wise.

It doesn’t take long for Eric Clapton to burst through with his unmistakable style and the track provides a great platform to launch the album from.

Rockin’ Daddy

Track # 3Sitting On Top Of The World.

This one of my favourite Wolf tracks and so I listen with a particularly critical ear. It is substantially different to the version I have on the album “Real Folk Blues“, but different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different!

Jeffrey Carp provides a good harp backing but I find him of all the players on this album, to be the most interesting choice.

He is an excellent harp [harmonica for the unenlightened] player, but why had I not heard more about, or from him?

Well it appears he died not long after this record was made which was in 1973.

Despite being only 25 years of age he appeared on some 23 albums, including one’s by Earl Hooker, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters.

His playing is fabulous and he sits nicely alongside the piano playing of Leake and the solid beat laid down by the ‘old firm’ Wyman and Watts as well the most excellent guitar work of Clapton.

So we have an excellent, if not different, version of this classic track.

L to R – Ian Stewart, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Norman Dayron, Howling Wolf & Jeff Carpe

 

Sitting On Top Of The World

 

Side 2, Track #1 is another long time favourite, Built for Comfort.

This is the most ‘different’ version of previous Wolf versions of all the tracks on this album.

It has very much a ‘swing’ type feel to it, while still retaining an ‘electric Chicago’ feel. From the moment the track starts and the horns come in, you know this is a major rearrangement.

I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say the version, on Real Folk Blues is superior in terms of a ‘true Wolf’ style of singing, but I still like this version.

With Ian Stewart (the 6th Stone) joining Bill and Charley and with Eric once again on guitar, taking a much more backseat position in the track, it allows Jordan Sandke and Dennis Lansing (providing the horn accompaniment) to ‘do their thing’. All the while ably assisted by Joe miller on Sax.

If you are not familiar with the trumpet work of Jordan Sandke, he is a much revered player who has played with the likes of Duke Ellington and the Widespread Depression Orchestra just to mention a couple of names.

Dennis Lansing on trumpet played with Mighty Joe Young (as did Sandke).

Joe Miller on Sax (who can also play trumpet) was a much sought after session man, who can claim to have also provided part of the brass backing for the likes of Lionel Ritchie.

 

Built For Comfort

Finally I have chosen tracks #9 & # 10 – both are Little Red Rooster.

Track # 9 is simply labeled ‘false start and dialogue. But when you listen to it, it is obviously a rehearsal version, fleshing out the parts each were to play. I

It is utterly fascinating listening to the interplay between them all as they ‘learn’ their parts.

cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
Clapton and Wolf – from the Booklet

 

Clapton tries to encourage Wolf to play along with them, and he does – but not on the final version, track #10.

I doubt that there is a ‘bad’ version of Little Red Rooster, and if there is, it sure wasn’t a version ever sung by the Wolf.

Written by Willie Dixon it is one of the tracks that has to be labelled a ‘classic’!

With Hubert Sumlin on what is loosely called ‘rhythm’ guitar, we hear Clapton play superb slide guitar.

Charlie Watts lays down a fantastic and solid drum track, and I absolutely love Lafayette Leake on piano. Lafayette played piano on many of tracks by Chuck Berry.

What do I say about the bass playing? It’s Bill Wyman!

Wyman is incapable of playing a bad bass line – and as usual he and Watts are playing hand in glove.

Little Red Rooster (Rehearsal & full track)

It had been a while since I had played this album right through, and I’d be less than honest if i didn’t admit to playing it through twice as i wrote this piece, and some tracks multiple times.

If you want pure unadulterated Howling Wolf, then you play Howlin’ Wolf!

If you want to hear Howlin’ Wolf sounding superb and playing with what might very well have been the very best ‘white’ backing outfit at the time – then this IS the album.

This is an absolute and utter must for any good collection. It’s not hard to get and not expensive, so there are no excuses.

cream of the crate cd review #16 – howling wolf – the london sessions
The Wolf – In full flight!

 Chester Burnett – aka Howlin’ Wolf died not many years after this album, in 1975 (at the very young age of 65) in fact.

This album is certainly part of the magnificent legacy he left.

 

I think I will let Don Snowden have the last word, in fact the words he uses to finish his piece in the liner notes.

“… this collection amply testifies that, in the proper company, Howlin’ Wolf was still more than capable of making his music go …BOOOOM!”

The vinyl LP, CD and Delux CD are all available on Ebay and Discogs.

Hey! there are even cassette versions available.

Prices range from $10.00 up.


VIDEOS:

Sadly it appears as though none of these sessions were ever filmed, and if they were, they have not been released on Youtube. What I have done is to choose the one track not used in the review and where the video clip still shots have been done tastefully, well and featuring the Wolf on an English music program.  

The second video was recorded prior to the ‘London Sessions’ but features the Wolf playing with Billy Preston and with, the Stones in the audience.

 

Smokestack Lightning

 

The Wolf – How many More Years