Howlin’ Wolf

Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976 Hines, Ill), better known by his stage name

Howlin’ Wolf, was an American blues singer and guitarist. He was at the forefront of transforming acoustic Delta blues into electric Chicago blues, and over a four-decade career, recorded blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and psychedelic rock. He is regarded as one of the most influential blues musicians of all time.

Born into poverty in Mississippi as one of six children, he went through a rough childhood where his mother kicked him out of her house, and he moved in with his great-uncle, who was particularly abusive. He then ran away to his father’s house where he finally found a happy family, and in the early 1930s became a protégé of legendary Delta blues guitarist and singer Charley Patton. He started a solo career in the Deep South, playing with other notable blues musicians of the era, and at the end of a decade had made a name for himself in the Mississippi Delta.

After going through some legal issues and spending some time in jail and a particularly rough experience while serving in the Army, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, in adulthood and became successful. He started his recording career in 1951 after being heard singing by 19-year-old Ike Turner, and then formed his own band in Chicago. Five of his songs got on the Billboard national R&B charts. He released several albums in the 1960s and 1970s, and made several television performances. His studio albums include The Howlin’ Wolf Album (1969), Message to the Young (1971), and The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions (1971). He released his final album The Back Door Wolf in 1973, and made his last public performance in November 1975 with fellow blues legend B.B. King. After years of severely declining health, Burnett died in 1976. He was posthumously inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. AllMusic has described him as “a primal, ferocious blues belter with a roster of classics rivaling anyone else, and a sandpaper growl of a voice that has been widely imitated”. The musician and critic Cub Kodanoted, “no one could match Howlin’ Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits.” Producer Sam Phillips recalled, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'” Several of his songs, including “Smokestack Lightnin’“, “Killing Floor” and “Spoonful“, have become blues and blues rockstandards. “Smokestack Lightnin'” was selected for a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, and three of his songs were listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 54 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time“.

Share this post

Leave a Comment