Today marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of legendary blues man Howlin’ Wolf, one of the great exponents (along with Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson) of the electrified Chicago blues sound. One of the most commercially and financially successful blues musicians of his day, Howlin’ Wolf was a giant of the 50’s blues scene, both artistically and physically (the man measured six foot six and weighed in at over 300 pounds). His sheer size combined with his aggressive rhythmic style (and volume) earned him a reputation as one of the most intimidating acts ever to take a stage.
Yet for all that, “Big Foot Chester”, as he was also called (his real name was Chester Burnett), was renown as a generous and moderate soul. Unlike virtually all of the well-known (and less well-known) players of that era, Howlin’ Wolf managed to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol, drugs, women and gambling. He even had a stable home life, with a wife and two daughters he adored to his dying day in 1976. No doubt it was this core discipline that made him such an effective business man and money manager. He had the best paid and organized band in Chicago. He even offered his musicians health insurance (!).
In the last few decades he’s mostly been known as the fellow that 50’s deejay Wolf Man Jack modeled his voice after. However his recorded music remains as potent as ever. His best known track, Moanin’ at Midnight, has as much drive as anything later funk masters like James Brown or George Clinton ever achieved, but with less than half as many players and a fraction of the wattage. Check it out here. And don’t deny yourself to the opportunity to see him singing one of his biggest hits, Smoke Stack Lightning, here.