Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 10, page 2 of 3)


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Chapter 10

Howlin' Wolf made his first two-sided record while he was working on the plantation picking cotton. Leonard Chess, one of the owners of Chess Records traveled the Delta area listening to the workers singing. When he heard Howlin', he hooked up his portable recorder and Wolf sang, "Saddle My Pony" and "Worried All the Time." As was the case with other artists, each had someone to look up to for guidance. Muddy Waters had 'Son' House, Elmore James was inspired by Robert Johnson and Wolf followed after Charley Patton.

Wolf developed into a flamboyant performer. He would enter on stage crawling on his hands and knees in a wolf-like fashion. He would hop and skip across the stage while singing and putting on all sorts of gyrations to entertain the audience. His act was so unusual that the Rolling Stones invited Wolf to appear on their American television show "Shindig" in 1964. That was Wolf's first experience with rock and roll.

Howlin' Wolf gained a lot of his experience by traveling and working with other artists. There were Tommy McClennan, Mississippi Sheiks with Memphis Slim and Sam Chatrnon, Charley Patton's half brother, 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, Jimmy Rodgers, Willie Dixon and others. While on the road. they often spent their time playing 'pitty pat' a popular card game among the blacks. Wolf went on to make records for Chess Records; "Moanin' al Midnight" was his first big hit. This was followed with other hits such as "Spoonful," 'Poor Boy," "Riding in the Moonlight," "The Red Rooster" and "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy."

When Howlin' moved into Chicago, the first man to help him was Muddy Waters. Muddy got him bookings throughout the area that helped Wolf's popularity. Howlin' soon came to the realization that if he wanted to be king of Chicago's south side, he would have to outdo or topple Muddy Waters. Wolf however, was smart enough to know that he wasn't as good an instrumentalist as the others, so, when he went in to record his sessions, he employed the services of Ike Turner, Hubert Sumlin, Willie Johnson, Willie Dixon and others. His records were climbing on the R&B charts and his music became a means of inspiration for the British rock and rollers.

In 1971, Wolf suffered several heart attacks which limited his tours. Then in 1973 an automobile accident caused severe kidney injuries, this did not stop his performances however, even though they were limited and toned down he made his appearances. On January 10, 1976 he died in the Hines Veteran's Hospital. He was 66 years old.

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