“He was the big bad wolf… Now the story is he got his name from a dead man who came out the cemetery and tuned his guitar. And he been howlin’ at the moon ever since.”
– Cadillac Records
His bluesongs display the worst features of an amoral ark — an erotically amok animal farm of roosters, dogs, backdoor men… A countrified vision of morality and mortality. I asked for water, she gave me gasoline. He is speaking, really, of frontier romances, the kind handily capable of dispensing frontier justice. And that Wolferine yodel, a libertine’s sigh of release, which in actuality reflects a faith only in that lone gift of absolute comfort in this world. The only one we were left with after the fall and therefore worth every disaster that might ensue in, say, tasting the forbidden fruit of another man’s wife.
Like the preachers say: on your tombstone will read two dates and a dash, and it’s only what you did with the dash that matters. So this man Chester Arthur Burnett, also known as Howlin’ Wolf, took to air on wings of song, grunt, and hoodooed holler, let the whole world know what a bad boy he had been, the kind of women he loved whether they were betrothed to him or another, and the mad dash from her married bed to leaping out the nearest window, and the gittin’ up the road apiece.
There was room to breathe in his songs and all kinds of manly secrets got traded between the two guitars and the loping bass, the detonating drums, and the cavernous body of his lungs… He was known to crawl the floor in search of a note others might consider too raw for the human esophagus. Here we have a singer driven by the moonlight mile to acts too devilish in design for other men to even contemplate… one man going it alone and wantonly shouldering the burden of surgically extracting the desire for hell’s gate from the human soul, only to then force us all to feast liberally on his hunger for the taboo, tawdry, unchristian and transgressive.
Backdoor Man – The Doors
“He had the hugest voice I have ever heard — it seemed to fill the hall and get right inside your ears, and when he hummed and moaned in falsetto, every hair on your neck crackled with electricity.”
– Robert Palmer
“He could scare ghosts away.”
– Keith Richards
Shake For Me/I’ll Be Back Someday/Love Me Darlin’
“A lotta people’s wonderin’ what is the blues… I’ma tell you what the blues is. When you ain’t got no money, you got the blues. When you ain’t got no money to pay your house rent, you still got the blues. A lotta people holler about ‘I don’t like no blues’, but when you ain’t got money and can’t pay your house rent and can’t buy you no food, you damn sure got the blues. You thinkin’ evil. That’s right. Any time you thinkin’ evil, you got the blues.”
– Howlin’ Wolf
“It’s the atmosphere and it’s the attitude that’s created… the tension… That sort of thing where it’s almost scary. And it’s almost threatening… It’s like Howlin’ Wolf. When you hear Wolf, he’s not messing about. It’s like,’I’m coming at you — and I’m gonna get you!‘ And that’s why I love him.”
– Jimmy Page
The Lemon Song – Led Zeppelin
“These guys were gentlemen in the true meaning of the word. I mean, I’ve no doubt they could be mean as… y’know? And I didn’t want to know! But there was an innate politeness about them.”
– Keith Richards
“Wolf was better at managing a bunch of people than Muddy or anybody else. Muddy would go along with the Chess company, Wolf would speak up for himself — and when you speak up for yourself, you’re automatically gonna speak up for the band.”
– Jimmy Rogers
Meet Me in the Bottom
“The difference with Wolf was, if you played in Wolf’s band and got fired or quit, you could draw unemployment compensation. If you walked up to Muddy and said something like unemployment compensation, they’d think you were crazy — ‘What the hell’s that?‘ Wolf would be sitting in the corner with his spectacles on in intermission, studying his books: he went to night school, he took music lessons, he was always trying to advance. He was a guy stayed on top of things.”
– Billy Boy Arnold
[Unless otherwise noted, excerpts taken from Howlin’ Wolf by Greg Tate, Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues]