Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976 Born in White Station, Mississippi, near West Point,) better known as the GREAT HOWLING WOLF was an influential American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player.
With a booming voice and looming physical presence, Burnett is commonly ranked among the leading performers in electric blues. Six foot six, and 300 pounds, Howling Wolf’s sound reflected his Enormous and imposing sound!
nicknamed Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow in his early years because of his massive size. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf thus: “I got that from my grandfather [John Jones].” His Grandfather would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the howling wolves would “get him”. According to the documentary film The Howlin’ Wolf Story, Howlin’ Wolf’s parents broke up when he was young. His very religious mother Gertrude threw him out of the house while he was still a child for refusing to work around the farm; he then moved in with his uncle, Will Young, who treated him badly. When he was 13, he ran away and claimed to have walked 85 miles (137 km) barefoot to join his father, where he finally found a happy home within his father’s large family. During the peak of his success, he returned from Chicago to his home town to see his mother again, but was driven to tears when she rebuffed him and refused to take any money he offered her, saying it was from his playing the “Devil’s music”.
In 1930, Howlin’ Wolf met Charley Patton, the most popular bluesman in the Delta at the time. Wolf would listen to Patton play nightly from outside a nearby juke joint. There he remembered Patton playing “Pony Blues,” “High Water Everywhere,” “A Spoonful Blues,” and “Banty Rooster Blues.” The two became acquainted and soon Patton was teaching him guitar. “The first piece I ever played in my life was … a tune about hook up my pony and saddle up my black mare” (Patton’s “Pony Blues”). Wolf also learned about showmanship from Patton: “When he played his guitar, he would turn it over backwards and forwards, and throw it around over his shoulders, between his legs, throw it up in the sky.Chester [Wolf] could perform the guitar tricks he learned from Patton for the rest of his life. Chester learned his lessons well and played with Patton often [in small Delta communities].
Howlin’ Wolf was also inspired by other popular blues performers of the time, including the Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Blind Blake, and Tommy Johnson (two of the earliest songs he mastered were Jefferson’s “Match Box Blues” andLeroy Carr‘s “How Long, How Long Blues“). Country singer Jimmie Rodgers, who was Wolf’s childhood idol, was also an influence. Wolf tried to emulate Rodgers’ “blue yodel,” but found that his efforts sounded more like a growl or a howl. “I couldn’t do no yodelin’,” Barry Gifford quoted him as saying in Rolling Stone, “so I turned to howlin’. And it’s done me just fine. His harmonica playing was modeled after that of Rice Miller (also known as Sonny Boy Williamson II), who had taught him how to play when Howlin Wolf had moved to Parkin, Arkansas, in 1933.
During the 1930s, Wolf performed in the South as a solo performer and with a number of blues musicians, including Floyd Jones, Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Johnson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Willie Brown, Son House, Willie Johnson. On April 9, 1941, at age thirty, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and was stationed at several army bases. Finding it difficult to adjust to military life, Wolf was discharged November 3, 1943, during the middle of World War II, without ever being sent overseas. Wolf returned to his family and helped with farming, while performing as he had done in the 1930s with Floyd Jones and others. In 1948 he formed a band which included guitarists Willie Johnson and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, harmonica player Junior Parker, a pianist remembered only as “Destruction” and drummer Willie Steele. He began broadcasting on KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas, alternating between performing and pitching equipment on his father’s farm after his family’s move to this area in the same year. Eventually, Sam Phillips discovered him and ended up signing him for Memphis Recording Service in 1951.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy played with Wolf teaching him to play on time. Matt says sometimes he played 13 bars and sometimes 14 and Murphy would cut through to show him how to stay in time, getting it down to 12 bars. Wolf regularly made up lyrics about the band on stage, sometimes in jest and sometimes hurtful. Murphy arranged for Junior Parker to join Wolf’s band. Later Parker and Murphy both left to form “The Blue Flames”, the name chosen by Murphy.
One of my most Favorite Blues Artist, today I pay tribute to the late GREAT HOWLING WOLF!!!
Keep Blues’n Babay’s