Howlin’ Wolf

June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976

Recording history: early 1950’s for Sam Phillips & Bihari Brothers (Sun & Modern label studios), Chess (1953-1973)

Also recorded with: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley

Important/historic recordings: “Moanin’ At Midnight”, “All Night Boogie”, “Tell Me”, “Smokestack Lightnin'”, “(Everybody’s) In The Mood”, “Baby Ride With Me”

Random fact: Though he is known primarily as a legendary blues vocalist and performer, Howlin’ Wolf also had a great tone & vibrato on the blues harp. Sam Phillips (of the legendary Sun Studios) says this – “Wolf’s harmonica playing was always the right amount. He would never do anything on the harmonica that would detract from you waiting to get back to Wolf’s voice. There is a certain lonesomeness about the harmonica that just fit the Wolf’s character in voice, in song, in lyric; and he just played just enough to titillate things he was going to do next with his voice.”

About: Born Chester Arthur Burnett in Mississippi, his family broke up while young and he moved around from his mother’s, to his uncle’s, until finally with his father in his early teens. In his late teens, met Delta blues legend Charley Patton, from whom he learned some songs and guitar, and eventually the two performed together occasionally. Developed his unique style of “howling” after trying to emulate country singer Jimmie Rodgers’ yodeling style (not to be confused with Chicago blues artist Jimmy Rogers). Started performing with other MS area blues performers such as Johnny Shines, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Son House, and Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson #2), whom he learned some harmonica from. His fat-toned harp, often with a heavy vibrato, was one of his musical signatures that still impacts listeners worldwide.

Sam Phillips (soon to be of Sun Studios) discovered Howlin’ Wolf around 1951 and recorded him for the Memphis Recording Service. Some sessions were released for the Modern label, as well as the Chess label, and Chess themselves eventually signed Howlin’ Wolf in 1953. Was said to be a smart business man and did well for himself in regards to his finances, unlike most of his contemporaries in the music field. Wolf went on to become of the most influential blues artists in history, influencing generations of blues, country, and rock & roll musicians. In 1980 inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1991 inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “Memphis Days – Vol 1″- Bear Family (great collection of early recordings)
  • “Memphis Days – Vol 2″ - Bear Family (great collection of early recordings)
  • “His Best” - MCA/Chess (good single-CD collection of songs)
  • “Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues” - MCA/Chess (2LPs on 1 CD – classic stuff)
  • “Moanin’ In Moonlight/Rockin’ Chair” - MCA/Chess (2LPs on 1 CD – classic stuff)
  • “The Anthology” – Universal (2 CD set with of some great songs not on other “Best Of” collections)

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history

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