Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Howlin' Wolf Story, Part 2

Picking up from Part 1 of The Howlin' Wolf Story, it's worth noting here (as Walking Man commented in the previous post) that Wolf was a big man, around three hundred pounds, and yet -- as someone else quipped (I don't remember who or where), on stage he was like a force of nature, fusing Jimi Hendrix's antics (learned from Charley Patton) with the gymnastics of Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop.

In any case, not too long after his early Memphis hit singles, he drove with four thousand bucks in hand to Chicago, developing a strong musical presence there, teaming up with Chess records. He eventually added to his band Hubert Sumlin from Wast Memphis days; in Chicago, Sumlin developed into a fantastic and highly influential electric guitar player. By the end of the 1950s, Wolf got married and adopted two daughters. A thorough professional, he took care of both his family (his wife became his business manager) and band members, though his "Christian" mother down South still never forgave him for his choice of career; in fact, she refused to take the money he offered. When the Wolf sang "Goin' Down Slow," he probably meant it when he came to these lines:

Please write my mother, tell her the shape I'm in
Tell her to pray for me, forgive me for my sin . . .

By the early 1960s, black music audiences had shifted away from the blues, but after a rough few years, white audiences -- particularly in Europe -- took to the style in a big way. Enter the Rolling Stones. Already major stars, they covered the Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" (pretty surrealistically if you compare the two, notably recorded in Chicago) in 1964; after it became a number one hit in the UK, the Stones created a space for the American, a hero to them, on Shindig (#37, 1965).

Wolf was treated like royalty while on tour in Europe. By the end of the 60s, though, his health deteriorated (kidneys, heart); nonetheless, he agreed to work on The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions in 1970, which after its release in 1971 sold more than 900,000 copies according to the documentary.

Howlin' Wolf's great sideman Hubert Sumlin observes long after Wolfs death in 1976, "He was on it. I still think he's here right now . . ."  Throughout The Howlin' Wolf Story, Sumlin comes across as a vibrant, joyous person.  I'd really love to see the 78-year old guitar hero in person  -- he represents a living link to the beginning of recorded blues music. His website:

Today's Rune: Defense.  Photo: Howlin' Wolf at Silvio's, Chicago. Credit:


Charles Gramlich said...

Would have been cool to have seen him in action.

Anonymous said...

in the documentary, every time someone handed Hubert Sumlin a guitar his face just lit up. how can you not love someone who loves what they do so much.

Anonymous said...

oh, and hubert's birthday is Nov. 16th if anyone feels like wishing him a happy birthday.

jodi said...

Erik, I ask my Mom to take a lap around the rosary beads for me all the time. Somehow she seems to have the connection..