The Howlin' Wolf Story

Early Years

With a booming voice and imposing physical presence, Howlin' Wolf is ranked among the best electric guitars blues men; along with "Little Walter" Jacobs and Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf is also one of the best blues artist to record at Chess Studios.

Chester Arthur Burnett was born on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. Burnett got the name Howlin' Wolf from his grandfather. Howlin' Wolf's parents split up when he was very young; following the separation, he lived with his mother. When he refused to help work the family farm, his mother kicked him out. Wolf then went to live with his Uncle who mistreated him too; when he was thirteen years old, Howlin' Wolf ran away to live with his daddy; once there, he found the happy home he wanted. In the late twenties and early 1930's Wolf was inspired by Charley Patton, one of the most popular delta blues artist of the time; Wolf would often listen to him play at local Juke Joints; consequently, Patton noticed and befriended Wolf teaching him what he knew about the guitar and showmanship. When Patton felt he was ready, Howlin' Wolf would perform with him in local clubs. Howlin' Wolf was a fast learner, and he used what he learned from Patton for the remainder of his life. Some other important influences on Howlin' Wolf's style were Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Tampa Red, and his childhood Idol Country and Western singer Jimmie Rodgers.

The 1930's and 40's

As time went on and he became more confidant in his playing and showmanship, Wolf begun to perform solo; also, he would sometimes perform with other artist such as Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, and Willie Brown. When he wasn't performing, he helped his dad on the family farm. In April 1941 when Wolf was thirty years old, he was drafted into the US Army. Howlin' Wolf found military life difficult to adjust too. Consequently, he was discharged in November 1943 for medical reasons. Wolf returned home and as before performed and helped his dad on the farm. Later in 1948, Wolf moved to West Memphis, AR; During this time, he formed a band and worked as a disc jockey for WKEM radio in Memphis.It was during this time, he came to the attention of a local recording studio owner.

1950's and 1960's

In 1951, Howlin' Wolf auditioned for Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service; this studio is where many of the popular bluesmen such as Little Milton and B.B King got their start. From Wolf's recording sessions came two hit songs including "How Many More Years" and "Moaning at Midnight." Chess Records leased the masters from Phillips, and in 1951 released both songs; a short time later, in the same year, they made the top ten on the Rhythm and Blues Billboard list. Although Wolf made other recordings for Phillips, Chess Records would sign him. In 1953 Howlin' Wolf moved to Chicago and remained there for the rest of his life. When Howlin' Wolf moved to Chicago, Sam Phillips commented Howlin' Wolf was his greatest discovery, and his greatest loss when he moved. Later in 1956, "Smoke Stack Lightning" was on the charts for three weeks and "I Asked for Water" charted for a week in the same year. In 1959, "Moaning in the Moon Light" was released; this album was a combination of previously released hits. Early in the 1960's the album "Howlin Wolf" was released; this album had the hits "Spoonful", "Little Red Rooster", and "Going Down Slow." Later in 1964 he married his sweetheart Lillie Hanley, and that same year he performed at the American Folk Blues Festival. The following year, at the insistence of The Rolling Stones, Howlin' Wolf made his only appearance on the TV show "Shindig." A short time later Wolf worked with Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters; they co-produced the Super Blues Band Album at Chess Studios.

Later Years and Death

In May 1970, Howlin' Wolf traveled to London to record the "London Sessions"; while recording this album his back up support was Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ringo Star and others. During 1971 Wolf received an honorary doctorate from Columbia College in Chicago, and later in 1973 Wolf recorded his last album for Chess Studios; its name was "The Back Door Wolf"

Howlin' Wolf's health started to declined in the late sixties on into the seventies. In the early seventies he had several heart attacks, and as a result of an automobile accident his kidneys were severely damaged. Wolf received kidney dialysis, but he continued to perform; one of his last concerts was November 1975 in Chicago's Ampitheater with B.B. King, Little Milton, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Howlin' Wolf died on January 10, 1976 of complications from kidney disease. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.


More by this Author


Comments 40 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

An artist I am not familiar with, but I should learn more about his kind of music. Since my interest in folk music tended me toward acoustic music, I tended to ignore those doing electric guitar. I'll have to correct that. Thanks for bringing him to my attention.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@dahoglund - Yes I understand what you mean; it is always nice to learn new things; as always it is nice to hear from you; looking forward to reading more of your articles too :)


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

I am also not familiar with him but my son loves everything to do with guitar music and I'm going to send him your hub address. I'm glad you wrote this hub. Thanks.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Nice tribute.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Pamela99 - Nice to hear from you again; thank you for forwarding my hub address to you son.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Sandyspider - Thanks for stopping by, and thank you leaving comments.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

First time to hear his work, He is amazing with the guitar, but I was aamzed by his story, thanks cool, Maita


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@prettydarkhorse - thank you for your kind words, and as always it is nice to hear from you Maita :)


Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

Thanks for sharing, I had herd of this great artist but had never listened to him before. Thanks for including the YouTube link.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Truth From Truth - Glad you enjoyed this article, and it is nice to hear from you again.


DavidDLewis profile image

DavidDLewis 6 years ago from Pennines, UK

Brilliant artist, have been a fan for many years. It is great to learn about his history! Thankyou..


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@DavidDLewis - Glad you enjoyed this article; thank you for taking the time to leave comments :)


Sherbet Penny profile image

Sherbet Penny 6 years ago from Galway, Ireland.

Brilliant hub, and can't believe a lot of comments are saying first time they heard of him, what??? Great videos too, and I'm a big muddy waters fan too, nice stuff.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Sherbet Penny - Thank you for the kind words; yes I really liked the videos too especially the last one. I have a few Muddy Water CD;s too. Thanks for stopping by


changtian profile image

changtian 6 years ago

Brilliant hub, and can't believe a lot of comments are saying first time they heard of him, what??? Great videos too, and I'm a big muddy waters fan too, nice stuff.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

changtian - Thank you for your feedback.


Mystique1957 profile image

Mystique1957 6 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

Awesome, dear! My love for the blues is out of this world!

You still owe me a hub on B.B.King, Albert King, Eric Clapton and John Mayall! I havenĀ“t forgotten that! Hahaha! Great Hub!

Two thumbs up!

warmest regards and infinite blessings,

Al


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Mystique1957 - It is nice to hear from you again; I see you not joking about the Albert King, Eric Clapton Hub. Sorry haven't got to it, kinda got side tracked; I will have to think on it. Thanks for stopping by :)


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

One of the true blues legends - great Hub coolmon - have to agree I look forward to more.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@billyaustindillon - yes he is one of the blues legends; thanks for the feedback, and for stopping by.


keiranthapa profile image

keiranthapa 6 years ago from Darjeeling

I'm now curious to learn more about Wolf. Good hub!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@keiranthapa - Thanks for your feedback; I am glad you enjoyed this hub.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Great hub! I didn't know about this guy!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@habee - Thank you for your kind words, and nice to hear from you :)


hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

I didn't knew him so I've found your hub pretty interesting. Rated up. :)


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@hypnodude - I am glad you found this article interesting, thank you for stopping by.


justom profile image

justom 6 years ago from 41042

Nice hub, I love blues. Howlin', Muddy, John Lee, Robert Lockwood Jr and Honeyboy and on and on! I had the pleasure of seeing Robert 4 times, the last being right before he passed. I met him and got a signed CD. Honeyboy 4 times also and got to meet and talk with him. He also signed some stuff for me. I've noticed, from going to way too many shows, that blues artists are all very friendly. Again great hub! Peace!!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@justom - Sounds like you had a nice time at those concerts; thank you for reading my article, and leaving your feedback.


SwiftlyClean profile image

SwiftlyClean 6 years ago from Texas

Great person you wrote about,I love good old blues music.Even more when I visit south Louisiana.It is so much of my heritage.

Thanks for writing this.

Peace!

Sharon Smith


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@SwiftlyClean - Oh ok you have roots in Louisiana, that is nice. I know what you mean, nothing like those old school singers that sang from the heart. Thank you for your comments :)


raddad516 6 years ago

I was amazed to hear people say they never heard of "Da Wolf" -- but then my family roots were in Ga and N. Fla..if Wolf wet your appetite then u'll love to fill up on Muddy, John lee Hooker, Lighting Hopkins, Honey Boy, the

King(s) etc..


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@raddad516 - As time goes on some performers are forgotten. It is good to write biographies to keep their memory alive. Yes you are correct; if you enjoy Howlin Wolf then you should check out Muddy Waters, Hooker, Hopkins etc.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago

Nice Hub. Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins are among my favorites. I wish I'd had the chance to hear them in person.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Ralph Deeds - I know what you mean. I wish i could attend a live performance of Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters while they were in their prime. Thank you for your feedback.


Chuck RitenouR profile image

Chuck RitenouR 6 years ago from Front Royal, Virginia

Love to hear the "Wolf" howlin'.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Chuck RitenouR - He was quite the performer back in his day. Thanks for your feedback.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Oh yes the howling wolf, what a sound indeed and a mark truly left as a legend in music history. Great tribute and very well done. Thank You. May the beat always go on! Peace :)


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@katiem2 - He is one of the great Bluesman. Thanks for your comments on this hub.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Excellent hub. Thanks for introducing Howlin Wolf to me. I learned so much. Rated up.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@toknowinfo - I am glad you found it interesting and educational :)

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Additional Information

    Click to Rate This Article
    working