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Howlin' Wolfs 10 Best Blues Albums

Updated on March 15, 2011
Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf

Howlin' Wolf was born as Chester Arthur Burnett on 10th June 1910 in West Point Mississippi. He was renowned for his huge physical appearance and his booming voice. Howlin' Wolf was one of the main recipients of the 60's English Blues revival spearheaded by people like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and John Mayall and was responsible for many of blues standards such as Smokestack Lightning, Built for Comfort Not built for Speed and Back Door Man. He died at the age of 65 on the 10th January 1976 from complications from Kidney disease.

His style was very distinctive with a dirty growl and a dirty leer in his voice he truly was an original. His throaty roar may no tbe to everyones taste but I believe given time his inimitable way of singing really grows on you. And who could not like a song called I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline).

This list is my tribute to one the Blues finest.

Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf
Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf

A fluid, fascinating and thoroughly researched biography that is a long overdue tribute.


1. Howlin' Wolf: His Best (Chess 50th Anniversary Collection)

This Collection of Howlin Wolfs best, the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, is probably the best place to start if you are new to the Wolf but is also essential if you are lover of his work. It covers most of his best work in one collection. It starts with his 1951 debut "Moanin' at Midnight" weaves through many of his classics such as "Smokestack Lightnin'." and "Sitting on Top of the World". It also covers his definitive interpretations of Willie Dixon's songs, such as "Back Door Man," and "The Red Rooster," before ending up with "Killing Floor". This is a Howlin Wolf 101 and shows his raw and powerful vocal style at its finest. It also showcases his self-deprecating humour in some of his classics such as Three Hundred Pounds of Joy" and "Built for Comfort".

2. The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions

The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions was released by Chess in 1971 and was one of the first super session blues albums featuring a blues master being backed by the second generation of English blues fans such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood.

Again this is a chance to hear many of Howlin' Wolfs finest songs but reinterpreted with some of his most famous and talented fans. The session put together by Clapton features songs which are musically more electric but Wolf still is the towering presence in amongst his disciples. There are versions of his Willie Dixon staples "Red Rooster" and "I ain't Superstitious" which benefit from some wonderful guitar work from Clapton. There is also a superb version of "Highway 49" featuring Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood along with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones.

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

3. Moanin' in the Moonlight

Moanin' in the Moonlight was Howlin' Wolfs first full-length album although it was actually a compilation of previously-issued singles. A true measure of the brilliance of this album is that it was ranked 153 by Rolling Stone in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.

These recordings many of which are in mono and from original 78's feature basic cut down versions of songs that went on to be classics after being "discovered" by people such as the Rolling Stones. Here we have classic versions "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)", there is also the much underrated 'Moanin' At Midnight" which shows off Howlin' Wolfs trademark moaning and howling to good effect.

This is vintage Wolf - loud, booming but somehow eerie.

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

4. Howlin' Wolf (aka The Rocking Chair Album)

Much like the album at number 3 "Moanin' in the Moonlight" this album titled simply "Howlin' Wolf" but better known as "The Rocking Chair Album" was actually a compilation of previously-issued singles. This album is made up primarily of singles released between 1960 and 1961 and after the previous album this featured much of Howlin' Wolfs best work as he raided his colleague Willie Dixon's songbook and made these classics his own.

Here we have the raw versions of classics such as "The Red Rooster", "Wang Dang Doodle", "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful". Some recordings are mono and some are stereo but this doesn't in anyway detract from the feast of Wolf that comes out of the speakers. This is a legend of the blues really hitting his straps

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

5. The Back Door Wolf

The Back Door Wolf was Howlin' Wolf's last album released in 1973 just before he sadly finally succumbed to his ailments. Wolf was heading downhill at the time but this album is an astonishing display of pure guts and deep, deep heart felt blues. As an insight into the session and the place that Wolf was at the time there is the added poignancy of the sound of someone occasionally off-mike feeding him the words to his own songs.

Tracks like "Coon On The Moon" and "Watergate Blues" were Howlin' Wolfs versions of the "new" blues after its reinvigoration by a generation of English players. He also re-invents the past in songs like "Moving" and "Trying To Forget You". This album also shows Howlin' Wolf's constant desire for experimentation as a harpsichord is added to many tracks, which gives a whole new dimension to the blues sound.

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

Howlin' Wolf DVD's worth watching

The Howlin' Wolf Story - The Secret History of Rock & Roll
The Howlin' Wolf Story - The Secret History of Rock & Roll

An eminently watchable documentary all about Chester A. Burnett.


6. Live & Cookin' at Alice's

This album was a Live album recorded in 1972 in Chicago late in Howlin' Wolfs career but still shows Howlin' Wolf at his barnstorming best delivering a powerful set despite having suffered numerous heart attacks by this time.

Strangely for a live album Wolf doesn't feature any of his classic numbers and this is the real beauty of this album. It features mostly new songs and obviously because of Wolfs health these tend to be mid-tempo numbers with Howlin Wolf stretching out lazily to inhabit the music. The music behind the big man is absolutely first class as well and quite a few odf the songs meader comfortably through to seven minutes rather than the single-friendly three-minutes of older recordings.

A tour-de-force from a great live performer.

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

7. The Real Folk Blues

This was originally released in 1966 but has since been released as a double set with More Real Folk Blues (see number 8). This was Chess's attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in Howlin' Wolf following the 60's English blues explosion of the Rolling Stones et al. as they reissued compilations sets of music by many blues legends.

Interestingly Chess opted not to include many of the Willie Dixon classics that had reignited the interest in Howlin' Wolf but decided to include many of Howlin' Wolfs own tunes and music that harked back more to his past in the Mississippi Delta. This album relies more heavily on his 60's Chicago band and as such is slightly more polished than the follow-up. The highlight is probably "Killing Floor" although there is competition from a couple of other lesser known classics such as the dark "The Natchez Burnin'" and the moody and the slow burning "Tell Me What I've Done",

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

8. More Real Folk Blues

As with the album above at No 7 The Real Folk Blues this was Chess's attempt to cash in on the renewed interest in Howlin' Wolf following the 60's English blues explosion of the Rolling Stones et al. This album was originally released in 1967 and has since been released as a double set with Real Folk Blues (see number 7).

In this compilation of Howlin' Wolf tracks Chess delved further back into the back catalogue and brought out an intriguing collection mainly from the Chicago recordings from the early to mid 50's. These are more primitive recordings but in their own way stripped off a lot of production give a good indication of what would make Wolf great. Tracks include the haunting dirge "No Place to Go" and the more up-tempo "Neighbors" and "Rockin' Daddy.". Whilst the sound quality is not the best the music more than makes up for this. Highlight of the album has to be the menacing "I'll be Around".

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

9. Cadillac Daddy - Memphis Recordings, 1952

This is raw primal early Howlin' Wolf. Sun Records chief Sam Phillips heard these recordings a saw the genius within. The Howlin' Wolf of these sessions was just a few years off the farm and had just started out making a big noise and developing his own style. The already middle-aged singer and harmonica player had experimented mixing his native Mississippi blues with the electrified Chicago blues.

Howlin' Wolf is supported by his earliest band who had a feral reputation and included the the slashing, distorted guitar of Willie Johnson. These are Howlin' Wolfs earliest recordings from Memphis' Sun Studios and whilst they have a novelty value are also intrinsically very enjoyable in themselves.

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

10. The Howlin' Wolf Anthology

This is a 2007 released 2 disc set and includes 48 classics from singles, rarities, album tracks. All the favourites are included such as "Back Door Man", "Smokestack Lightning" and "Moanin' for my Baby".

This record includes so many tracks that picking any out would be impossible although the version of Little Red Rooster that includes Eric Clapton on guitar next to one of his hero's is worth the price of admission on its own. This Double CD Set includes a lot of music that everyone should have in their record collection.

True Genius

Howlin Wolf CDs available on Amazon

Which of these CD's do you consider Howlin' Wolfs best

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    • subbuteoz profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Absolutely the Wolf was one of the best and hugely underrated by many. A truly one of a kind bluesman.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub. The Blues is the real thing indeed! And the great Wolf was one of the best.

      Love and peace


    • subbuteoz profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Coolmon - excellent if only more people could experience his music.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      I love Howlin Wolf's music. I have 2 of the CDs you mentioned in this hub

    • gwinto500 profile image


      8 years ago

      I grew up listening to people like Eric Clapton and bands like Led Zeppelin, as good as they are or were theres nothing like the real thing and this guy was the real thing.


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