Howlin’ Wolf ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ Album Review

A scintillating album, one of the greatest blues records ever made.

When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies’.” – producer Sam Phillips

Title: Howlin’ Wolf – Second Album (aka Rockin’ Chair)
Original Release Date: 1962

Howlin’ Wolf – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
William Johnson – guitar
Freddy Robinson – guitar
Jimmy Rogers – guitar
Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers – guitar
Hubert Sumlin – guitar
Jody Williams – guitar
Henry Gray – piano
Johnny Jones – piano
Hosea Lee Kennard – piano
Lafayette Leake – piano
Otis Spann – piano
Willie Dixon – bass
Buddy Guy – bass
Fred Below – drums
Junior Blackman – drums
Sam Lay – drums
S.P. Leary – drums
Sammy Lewis – drums
Earl Phillips – drums
J. T. Brown – saxophone
Donald Hankins – baritone saxophone
Arnold Rogers – tenor saxophone

Voted the third best guitar album of all time by Mojo music magazine back in 2004, this classic compilation from Howlin’ Wolf is perhaps better known by Rockin’ Chair . Frankly, one could build a fine blues library consisting of little more than Howlin’ Wolf and the rest of the musicians that appear on this record. It’s that damned important.

Chester Arthur Burnett (nicknamed Howlin’ Wolf as a child by his uncle) began his music career in the 1930s as a devotee, student and imitator of the famed Charlie Patton, but evolved his own style quickly. In 1951 he recored several singles in Memphis at Sun Records under the tutelage of Sam Phillips. Phillips called him the most explosive, satisfying artist he ever recorded, and Phillips was not a man prone to exaggeration. He had, after all, also produced albums by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and many more. But Sam always recognized Wolf as something beyond extraordinary. As did The Rolling Stones, who slavishly imitated many of Wolf’s numbers, as did countless others including Lucinda Williams, who notably recorded “I Asked For Water, He Gave Me Gasoline”.

The Wolf moved on to Chicago in 1952, notably possessing “a $4000 car and $3900 in the bank”, an impressive achievement for a black bluesman.

The Wolf always enjoyed financial success, always looked after his money, and always looked after his band members. The man oozed majesty and power on stage, and integrity off stage. Six foot three, approaching 300 pounds, and possessing a lightness on his feet (“I’m a hip shaker”, he sang in “Rockin’ Daddy”), the Wolf was an imposing presence. He was, however, anything but a one man show. A gifted harmonica player and a groove-laden guitarist, he was smart enough to give his band a wide berth in accompanying him. Hubert Sumlin, in particular, frequently played lead guitar lines simultaneously with the vocal, while bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon (along with bassist Buddy Guy!) teamed with up with various drummers (see list above) to generate some of the finest music ever recorded.

This album is a compilation disc, for the Wolf enjoyed several R & B singles hits in the mid ’50s to early ’60s. You’ll hear several different lineups from cut to cut, with the consistency of Sumlin on most tracks, and the writing of Dixon on many.

This is the real folk blues. Accept no substitutes. Oh, and you gotta buy this on vinyl.

Track Listing

Shake for Me
The Red Rooster
You’ll Be Mine
Who’s Been Talkin’
Little Baby
Going Down Slow
Down in the Bottom
Back Door Man
Howlin’ for My Baby
Tell Me