Roar of a Wolf
From plantation to the hall of fame
Chester Arthur Burnett, named after the 21st president of the U.S.A., was raised on a cotton plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi.
He learned the guitar as a child and was trained by guitarist and vocalist Charley Patton.
As Howlin’ Wolf, he played his first gig in the south on January 15, 1928.
Throughout the thirties he performed in street corners and formed his first band The House Rockers in Memphis in 1948 with pianist Bill Johnson, lead guitarist Willie Johnson and drummer Willie Steele. Later personnel included at various junctures harmonica players James Cotton, Little Junior Parker and pianist Ike Turner.
In 1951, Turner, a freelance talent scout, got Wolf to record for many record companies and in 1957 one of those songs, Moanin’ at Midnight, became his first R&B hit.
In 1952 he moved to Chicago where his music was well received. Some critics consider the recordings he made in the fifties and sixties his best works. Notable among them are, “Sitting on top of the world”, “Spoonful”, “Smoke-stack Lightinin”, “Little Red Rooster”, “I ain’t Superstitious”, “Back Door Man”, “Killing Floor” and “Many More Years”.
His songs, many of them written by Willie Dixon, were covered by American and British rock groups such as The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, The Yardbirds, The Doors, Cream, The Electric Flag, Little Feet, Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck.
Wolf, who stood an imposing 6-foot-3” and weighed nearly 300 pounds, frequently appeared at blues and rock festivals in the late sixties and early seventies.
His 1971 album, The London Sessions, featured backup support from Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman both of The Rolling Stones.
That same year he received an honorary doctorate from Colombia College in Chicago. He lived the last years of his life in Chicago’s crumbling South Side ghetto.
He suffered several heart attacks in the early seventies and received kidney dialysis treatment.
He continued to play occasionally and one of his last concerts was in November 1975 at the Chicago Amphitheatre with B.B King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Little Milton. He entered a hospital in December and died at age 65.
It may not be wrong here to mention that Wolf was on of the most influential musicians of the post World War II era and his electric Chicago blues, featuring his deep lupine voice, shaped rock & roll. Howlin’ Wolf was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
A. GEORGE ANTONY
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