This Day in Rock Music History January 10
1976 Howlin' Wolf Passes Away
On this day in music history, the great blues musician Howlin’ Wolf passed away. At the time of his death, he was recovering from having brain surgery in Chicago.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a recovery.
Believe it or not, Howlin’ Wolf was not this legend’s given name. As a matter of fact, he was named after the rarely discussed president Chester A. Arthur. Hence, Howlin’ Wolf’s real name was Chester Arthur Burnett. Before he was known as a howler, his friends during his younger years dubbed him Big Foot and Bull Cow. I’m guessing this was because of his large physique. Do you know how he got the Howlin’ Wolf moniker? Read on.
Wolf’s grandfather used to tell Chester stories about wolves that lived in their part of the country. If Chester didn’t behave like a good boy, his grandfather explained, the wolves would eat him. Hence the name Howlin’ Wolf.
When he was just a teenager, he was thrown out of his mom’s house because he refused to work on the farm. He ended up walking to his father’s house 85 miles away. There is where he stayed because he was treated well and he felt happy there. When he hit the “big time,” he went back to visit his mom and give her some money. She refused it because he got it by singing “Devil music.”
(Apparently, singing the “Devil’s Music” is a much bigger sin than throwing your pre-teen child out on the streets to fend for himself.)
Howlin’ Wolf’s career in blues music is legendary. He’s played with some of the biggest names in the music industry, both past and present. He jammed with Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Willie Dixon and many others. He was also different because he was a poor man who made his way into the music industries out of a life of poverty. In fact, he had $4,000 in his pocket when he drove from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago more than five decades ago. He also avoided the beer, babes and gambling that many fellow musicians fell victim to.
Not only that, but Mr. Wolf was such a financier with his earnings, he provided his band with large salaries and health insurance. This gave him the opportunity to pick almost anybody he wanted to play in his band. Surprisingly, though, he drove a Pontiac station wagon throughout most of his life and never spent his money on the typical extravagancies and eccentricities that other musicians desired.
He rests in peace in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Illinois. Eric Clapton bought the tombstone that marks his grave and paid to have a guitar and harmonica etched into it.
1997 - James Brown Gets a Star
Today in rock music history, the one and only James Brown received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The “Godfather of Soul” wore many hats in the industry, but none of them could cover up that unmistakable hair of his. He was best known as a raspy-voiced singer, but he also wrote a number of songs, produced records and dabbled in many forms of music like gospel, funk and jazz, among others.
His career began in the early 1950s and he continued to have huge hits all the way throughout the 1980s. Not many stars can say that they’ve charted at least once in four consecutive decades. He had almost as man hits as he did nicknames for himself. Here’s a quick list of the monikers used to refer to James Brown:
The Hardest Working man in Show Business
Soul Brother Number One
Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk (Hey, they can’t all be winners)
The Boss (although Bruce Springsteen is the only true “Boss”)
One of the most parodied James Brown-isms is draping of a cape over one’s shoulders during a performance just before being escorted off stage, supposedly due to exhaustion. Then, just before going offstage, the performer dramatically throws off the cape and rushes back to the stage to finish the act. Although most people do this as an homage to The Godfather of Soul, he took it from Gorgeous George – a professional wrestler during the 1940s.
Brown’s death in 2006 sparked a controversy between his children. He died on Christmas morning of that year, but there wasn’t “peace on earth” in the Brown family once the will was made known to the family. You can read about ithere, but it’s too long and complicated (and boring) to try to explain.
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