Tag Archives: Blues

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

January 11, 1962

The Tokens’ unusual single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” remained at #1 on Billboards Top 100 list. In two days Chubby Checkers’ “The Twist” would come back to be Billboard’s #1 single nearly a year and a half after hitting that same spot in August 1960.

Elvis Presley’s Blue Moon album was Billboard’s #1 mono album and Stereo 35/MM by Enock Light & the Light Brigade was the #1 stereo album.

Pete Best was The Beatles drummer, though by that August Richard Starkey replaced Best.

There was no band called the Rolling Stones, but there was an amazing guitarist singer: Howlin’ Wolf.

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Chester Arthur Burnett

Chester Arthur Burnett was born on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. The adults in his childhood years caused constant disruption in Chester’s life. His parents separated and his mother left him with an abusive uncle. When he was 13, Chester ran away to live with his father where they worked on a Delta farm.

It was there that Chester’s love of music found the Delta blues. His father bought a guitar for him when he was 17 and Chester began to get lessons from Charley Patton–the first of many Delta blues stars.

When he wasn’t working on the farm, he traveled with other musicians performing with them. He stood at 6′ 6″ and had a booming voice. Not surprisingly the he got the nickname Howlin’ Wolf.

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Howlin’ Wolf

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf
Chester Burnett on left, serving in the US Army.

He served in the Army during World War II, was discharged after a “nervous breakdown,” moved in with a girlfriend, and eventually returned to his father’s farm after she, too, suffered the same ailment.

Burnett also returned to music and when not farming, Howlin’ Wolf toured throughout the South.

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Sam Phillips

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Sam Phillips with his Memphis Recording Service was on a mission: find musicians who had IT.  In 1951 Fortune crossed the paths of Phillips and Wolf. Phillips recorded Wolf and as was typical at the time, sold the singles to another company. In this case, Chess Records in Chicago run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess.

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Chess Records

Much to Phillips’ dismay, he lost Wolf to the Chess brothers, Wolf moved to Chicago, and became part of that city’s immeasurable electric blues legacy.

On January 11, 1962 Chess released the Wolf’s so-called “rocking chair” album. Its actual name was simply the eponymous Howlin’ Wolf. The album consisted of the A and B sides of six previously released singles, but what a collection of songs this album had. Looking at the dozen songs (nine of which Willie Dixon wrote), one realizes (again) the influence American blues, particularly Chicago’s electric blues, had on those young British musicians.

Side one
  1. “Shake for Me” – 2:12
  2. “The Red Rooster” – 2:22
  3. “You’ll Be Mine” – 2:25
  4. “Who’s Been Talkin'” – 2:18
  5. “Wang Dang Doodle” – 2:18
  6. “Little Baby” – 2:45
Side two
  1. “Spoonful” – 2:42
  2. “Going Down Slow”  – 3:18
  3. “Down in the Bottom” – 2:05
  4. “Back Door Man” – 2:45
  5. “Howlin’ for My Baby” – 2:28
  6. “Tell Me” – 2:52

Note how nearly every song is under three minutes–typical of course for singles of the time but still great examples of how much power Wolf packed into such a small space.

Legacy

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

While the album was not an instant classic, Time has crowned it such. So many great covers brought deserved attention to Wolf’s first powerful recordings combined to make it so.

Rolling Stone magazine ranks it at #238 of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and describes it as “Chicago blues at its raunchy best, “The Rocking Chair Album” features an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon, including “Shake for Me,” “The Red Rooster” and “Back Door Man.” In 1971, on The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, Wolf finally taught an enraptured Eric Clapton how to play “The Red Rooster.”

If you have time today (or tomorrow?) give a listen (or two) to this amazing album.

Wolf died on January 10, 1976. Numerous music halls of fame have inducted him and even the US government issued a commemorative stamp on  September 17, 1994. (Mississippi Writers & Musicians site obit)

Howlin Wolf Howlin Wolf

Note that the second song on the Rolling Stones recently released album, Blue & Lonesome,  is a cover of Howlin’s “Commit a Crime.” Here is Mick and Jeff doing the song at the White House. I don’t think we’ll be hearing anything like it anytime soon.

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WC Handy Memorial Concert

WC Handy Memorial Concert

or the official full name…
The Fourth Annual Memphis Country Blues Festival
and the
First Annual WC Handy Memorial Concert

1969 festival #8

Mississippi Fred McDowell – “Goin’ Down to the River”

WC Handy Memorial Concert

WC Handy Memorial Concert

Memphis Sequicentennial Inc

The poster reads: The Memphis Sesquicentennial Inc. in conjunction with The Memphis Country Blues Society proudly presents The Fourth Annual Memphis Country Blues Festival and First Annual W.C. Handy Memorial Concert The Festival will officially begin Friday June 6 and Saturday June 7, 1969 with three daytime concerts and two evening concerts all in the Overton Park Shell, culminating with the W.C. Handy Memorial Concert in the Mid-South Coliseum on Sunday June 8th. Tickets for the Shell concerts will be available at time of performance only Tickets for the W.C. Handy concert will be on advance sale at many Memphis locations ($2.50 to $5.00) Claude Mabel (artist?)

WC Handy Memorial Concert

Some line-up!

Those who played at this comparatively unknown 1969 festival were:   Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, Backwards Sam Firk, Bukka White, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Insect Trust, Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods, Nathan Beauregard, Sun Smith and the Beale Street Five, Elder Lonnie McIntorsch, Sleepy John Estes, Blues Band, Lum Guffin, The World Greatest Jazz Band, Albert King, The Bar-Kays with Toni Mason, Jo-Ann Kelley, Furry Lewis, Slim Harpo, Rev. Robert Wilkins, John Fahey, Southern Fife and Drum Corps, Booker T. and the MGs, Moloch, Casietta George, Sid Selvidge, Soldiers of the Cross, Robert Pete Williams, Rev. Ishmon Bracey, and Wild Child Butler.

Just as white teenagers had inadvertently discovered so-called race music in the early 50s by way of Elvis and other white artists covering black artists’ songs (albeit often “sanitized” to white standards), many white teenagers had wandered into the Delta blues.

WC Handy Memorial Concert

Father of the Blues

WC Handy is called the Father of the Blues because it was his style of the Blues that became the dominant one in America. It happened in Memphis, Tennessee. Specifically on Beale Street. He did all this in the first part of the 20th century.

As festivals became a way to present lots of music to lots of listeners,  it was natural that a blues-themed festival would happen. The first Memphis Country Blues Festival was in 1966 and in 1969 it’s fourth time was combined with the First WC Handy Memorial Concert.

WC Handy Memorial Concert

Woodstock not

Two names that would appear throughout the summer and particularly at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair were Canned Heat, featuring the vocals of Bob Bear Hite and the guitars of Alan Blind Owl Wilson and Harvey Mandel and Johnny Winter. Both were not just blues enthusiasts, but men who studied the history of the blues.

In other words, this festival featured those who had discovered the blues and those who had helped invent it. And while many of the name are far from household names, their contribution to the art is still important.

WC Handy Memorial Concert

 Speckled Bird not impressed

The Great Speckled Bird was an alternative newspaper based in Atlanta, Georgia. had some less than flattering things to say about the way the festival was managed, especially the time when National Educational Television was recording for a future show. “…the TV crew…had no understanding (much less love) of the music and certainly none for the medium of television. Emcee Rufus Thomas had to read insipidly ‘humorous’ announcement before each ‘act’ ; musicians had to stop…so that ‘sound levels’…could be met.” The article continued, “What could have been a groovy, informal recording of the sights and sounds of country blues and electric rock performances…all was lost in a third-rate stage show.”

The presence of uniformed police did not add to the vibe. The article also pointed out that the older musicians were given short shrift sets compared to younger bands who sets organizers allowed to go on much longer.

One young performer that the Bird felt was OK was John D Loudermilk. Many of us know his…

The purpose of the WC  Handy component was to raise scholarship money.

WC Handy Memorial Concert
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Blues Activist JB Lenoir

Blues Activist JB Lenoir

5 March 1929 – 29 April 1967

JB Lenoir was born in Monticello, Mississippi. Before moving to Chicago and its musical influences in 1949, Lanior had New Orleans’s musical cauldron to simmer in.

When he moved to Chicago he met Big Bill Broonzy who introduced Lenoir to the that town’s amazing blues scene.

“Born Dead”
Blues Activist JB Lenoir
(photo from All About Jazz site)
Blues Activist JB Lenoir

Korean Blues

We typically don’t associate the blues with protest music (unless we expand the definition of blues to mean just that…and in some ways that would be an easy expansion). JB Lanoir was occasionally a blues protest musician.

In the early 50s he wrote “Korean Blues.” Bordering on a protest song, JB Lanior’s high-pitched vocals fooled some to think it was a woman’s. The song is a straightforward statement of concern about his future in Korea as well as his woman’s future without him.

Lord I got my questionnaire, Uncle Sam's gonna send me away from here
Lord I got my questionnaire, Uncle Sam's gonna send me away from here
He said J. B. you know that I need you, Lord I need you in South Korea


Sweetheart please don't you worry, I just begin to fly in the air
weetheart please don't you worry, I just begin to fly in the air
Now the Chinese shoot me mdown, Lord I'll be in Korea somewhere

I just sittin' here wonderin', who you gonna let lay down in my bed
I just sittin' here wonderin', who you gonna let lay down in my bed
What hurt me so bad, think about some man has gone in your bed.
Blues Activist JB Lenoir

Eisenhower Blues

It was Lanoir’s “Eisenhower Blues” that caused a bit of a rumpus. Parrot Records, his label at the time, had to re-record the song and substitute the lyrics “tax-paying” instead of “Eisenhower.” Here’s the “controversial” original:

Hey everybody, I was talkin' to you
 I ain't tellin' you jivin', this is the natural truth

I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

My money's gone, my fun is gone
The way things look, how can I be here long?

I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Taken all my money, to pay the tax
I'm only givin' you people, the natural facts
I only tellin' you people, my belief
Because I am headed straight, on relief

I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Ain't go a dime, ain't even got a cent
I don't even have no money, to pay my rent
My baby needs some clothes, she needs some shoes
Peoples I don't know what, I'm gonna do

I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Blues Activist JB Lenoir

Vietnam Blues

He continued to sporadically release music and before his death [following a poor treatment from a car accident’s injuries] Lanoir released “Vietnam Blues.” It is a song lost among the dozens of songs written during that time protesting that war. It is powerful and important, nonetheless.

Vietnam Vietnam, everybody cryin' about Vietnam
Vietnam Vietnam, everybody cryin' about Vietnam
The law all the days [?] killing me down in Mississippi, nobody seems to give a damn

Oh God if you can hear my prayer now, please help my brothers over in Vietnam
Oh God if you can hear my prayer now, please help my brothers over in Vietnam
The poor boys fightin', killin' and hidin' all in holes,
Maybe killin' their own brother, they do not know

Mister President you always cry about peace, but you must clean up your house before you leave
Oh how you cry about peace, but you must clean up your house before you leave
How can you tell the world how we need peace, and you still mistreat and killin' poor me.

In 1965, he performed in the annual American Folk Blues Festival that toured Europe with top acts that were more popular in Europe than in the performers own USA.

In 2011, Lenoir was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Blues Activist JB Lenoir
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