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Howlin’ Wolf’s birthday

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Born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910, today would be Howlin’ Wolf’s 93rd birthday.

He was one serious 300 pound mass of black manhood, a force of nature. He had such a presence that even playing a 50 year old record seems palpably like having a big serious grizzly bear in the middle of the room. After hearing HIM sing the definitive rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” you will absolutely laugh at hearing it come out of some puny little punk-ass white boy like Jim Morrison. When he said that he “eats more chicken than any man seen,” you’d better believe it.

I particularly favor a relatively obscure track “Goin’ Down Slow.” He communicates a really interesting sense of slow, grinding satisfaction as he narrates from his death bed on his pleasures that even kings have never experienced. “I have had my fun if I NEVER get well no more.”

I especially recommend the Howlin’ Wolf/Moanin’ in the Moonlight twofer disc. These are his first two albums, which are made up of his first ten years worth of singles, mostly from the 1950s. The 71 track box set obviously rates pretty high, but for a casual fan these two original albums will give you a good start.

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  • Eric Olsen

    I love the Wolf – top 5 blues guy all time – but I have to disagree with your Morrison assessment. The reason he linger so so in the popular imagination is that despite his real life idiocy, pretension, ineffectuality, and general flyweight character, when he was performing, he sometimes rose to a height on par with any of the greats. That’s the transformative power of art.

  • Morrison had his moments, and the Doors did have some outstanding songs of their own. I wasn’t buying Morrison’s schtick even when I was a teenager, but in fairness there was some substance there.

    Particularly, the Doors between them wrote a number of outstanding songs. “Light My Fire” is a perfectly good song, for example, and “Riders on the Storm” cannot be fairly denied, even with my personal distaste for Morrison.

    However, they were not very effective going at a straight blues tune. That was just not their strong suit, and Morrison just flat looked silly going head to head against Howlin’ Wolf of all people. Burnett just flat HAD a realness and authenticity that Morrison could never have hoped for.

    And saying that Morrison could hit heights “on par with any of the greats” frankly strikes me as ludicrous.

    Don’t make me write an extended mockery of the Doors.

  • Eric Olsen

    “Roadhouse Blues” is as straight a blues song as you can get and it’s a total balls-out classic. It’s as good as Wolf’s “Back Door Man”

  • “Roadhouse Blues” as good as Wolf singing “Back Door Man”? Eric, not to put too fine a point on it, but have you lost your frickin’ mind?

  • dude

    The original article is about the great Howling Wolf. It’s not a debate on the quality of Jim Morrison’s singing.
    Let’s stick with the topic, and please everyone, spin one of Wolf’s records tonight and let the Wolf’s moan in the moonlight.

  • Personal fave of the Wolf: Real Folks Blues, which includes “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Killing Floor” and (my own personal credo) “Built for Comfort.” He’s definitely up there in the blues pantheon.

    I’m stayin’ away from the Doors discussion, though.

  • Eric Olsen

    don’t forget that Wolf’s rhythm section went on to help form the Paul Butterfield Blues Band

  • Eric Olsen

    By the way, I only made an issue of Morrison because I am leery of putting too much stock in “authenticity” – it’s a potentially endless spiral. There were those who thought Muddy, Wolf, Sonny Boy et al in the Chicago scene unauthentic because they “went electric.” Some of the greatest blues is in fact blues rock – “Layla” is one of the greatest blues songs of all time even though it doesn’t fit a straight blues structure. And on and on.

    Taking nothing away from the Wolf, of course.

  • “I asked for water, and she gave me gasoline.” Owwwwwwwwwwww!

  • Eric Olsen

    “woke up this morning and i got myself a beer”

  • I saw Howlin’ Wolf in London a few times in the Sixties. He was incredibly powerful. One thing that I clearly remember was thinking that his harmonica looked like a toothpick against that massive body