All during Blues Bash Month my modest contributions have covered strictly contemporary blues artists. For this ninth and last piece for the month dedicated to the blues genre, I'm going to instead put forward a prominent member of blues royalty: Howlin' Wolf.
It's not hard to imagine that Wolf, born Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-1976), was a man who was better known and made a greater impact than the U.S. president he was named after. His influence is greater than any Chicago blues man save for friend and sometimes rival Muddy Waters and the homage to his music can be heard beyond the blues to the core of rock music itself. His commanding voice could range from blues yodeling to moaning to field hollering and often boomed like a shooting cannon. Wolf was by his own admission never a master musician, but he knew how to give listeners the true feeling of the blues.
Chess was his record company for almost his entire career, and through now-parent MCA, has released a box set of his better known works in 1991. There is also a nice shorter compilation of the hits called simply His Best.
But back in 1994, MCA Chess put out a 2 CD set, which the liner notes explains "presents the 1951-1969 studio highlights from Chess not previously issued on MCA/Chess". It was a collection of outtakes, unreleased tracks, and recordings otherwise uncovered by the box set. Released under the "Chess Collectibles" series, Ain't Gonna Be Your Dog had all the markings of a collection aimed only at the hard core Wolf fans.
On the contrary, this is an essential anthology of the genius of Howlin' Wolf's music.
The first third of the 42 tracks covers Wolf's pre-Chicago sessions in Memphis at the studio of Sam Phillips, who later discovered Elvis Presley and also oversaw the recording of the first rock 'n' roll tune, Ike Turner's "Rocket 88". Wolf's music was evidently already fully formed by this time. His signature howling-like singing and soulful harp playing is on display here, but there were other markers of the Howlin' Wolf sound; Willie Johnson's distinctive, over amplified guitar provided inspiration for rock bands some twelve to fifteen years later.