Howlin' Wolf was one of
modern blues' most electrifying performers.
Physically a large man, standing over six feet tall and
weighing nearly 300 pounds, he would crawl out onto the
stage on all fours, or jump around like an angry man,
like a wolf-man. The energy with which he sang
added a brand new dimension to the traditional Delta
Blues upon which his style was based (Escott, 1991).
Born Chester Arthur Burnett in West Point,
Mississippi, Howlin' Wolf grew up on a cotton
plantation and spent most of his life as a farmer,
entertaining only on the side. Among his many
musical influences was the blues yodeling "Father of
Country Music," Jimmie
Rodgers. Wolf said, "I couldn't do no
yodelin', so I turned to growlin', then howlin', and
it's done fine for me."
After serving in World War II, Wolf moved to West
Memphis, Arkansas, bought an electric guitar, and
formed his first band (Shaw, 1986). He made his
first recordings at Sun Studios with Sam
Phillips in the spring of 1951. In
February of the next year, he signed with Chess
Records and eventually moved to the Chicago blues
scene. In the early 60s, he played overseas with
the American Blues Festival package and performed
regularly in some of Chicago's most noted clubs
Wolf began to slow down by the early 70s due to ill
health and an automobile accident which damaged his
kidney. His last performance was in Chicago with
B. King in November of 1975; he died two months
later of kidney failure.
Howlin' Wolf was inducted into the Blues Foundation's
Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of
Fame in 1991. He is, perhaps, "the most
underrated of the R & B generation of bluesmen"
Escott, Colin and Hawkins,
Tonight: Sun records and the Birth of
Rock 'n' Roll. New York, New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Santelli, Robert. The
Book of Blues. New York, New
York: Penguin Publishing, 1993.
Shaw, Arnold. Black
Music in America. New York, New
York: Schirmer Books, 1986.
Shaw, Arnold. Honkers
Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm
& Blues. New York, New
York: Macmillan Publishing Company, inc.,