Personalities | Howlin’ Wolf | Roots of Rock
(Guitar, vocals, 1910–76)
Howlin’ Wolf was born Chester Burnett in West Point, Mississippi, and learned the blues from Charley Patton and harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson, who married his half-sister. After the Army, he began performing around West Memphis, Arkansas, wowing fans with his aggressive vocals and newfangled electric guitar. Promoting himself on local radio, he was heard by Sam Phillips, who cut Wolf’s first sides at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service. Phillips leased the results to Chess, and Wolf was on his way.
For Chess, Wolf had hits with ‘Evil’ and ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’. But his career headed to a new level in 1960, when he was teamed with writer Willie Dixon. The combination produced a spate of mid-1960s hits, including ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’, ‘Back Door Man’, ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Wang Dang Doodle’. Wolf toured Europe and inspired The Rolling Stones, whose version of ‘The Red Rooster’ (‘Little Red Rooster’) reached No. 1 in Britain. His material was also recorded by The Doors, Cream and Jeff Beck. Later solo albums were not as successful, and in the 1970s his health began to fail. He died in a Veterans’ Administration Hospital in 1976.
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