Chester Arthur Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) grew up the son of divorced share croppers. He was kicked out of his mother’s home at a young age when he refused to work for 18 cents per day. He was sent to live with his mother’s brother who treated him badly and then around age 14, he ran away and found his father’s family; supposedly walking 85 miles barefoot to reach him. His father loved him and they were happy together.
He learned to play guitar from a popular musician of the day, Charley Patton, who taught him how to use the guitar and “might” have given him his nickname.
During the peak of his success he returned home to try and make amends with his mother, but she rejected him saying he’d made the money he offered her “playing the devil’s music.”
He was successful. when he drove the blues road to Chicago, he did it in his own car, alone and with $4000 in his pocket. This was an unheard-of sum for someone to be traveling with, especially as a musician, especially a black musician in those times.
He wasn’t interested in gambling, drinking or as he put it “loose women” and so managed to avoid many of the traps that appeal to most young musicians. He was so successful that he was one of the first band leaders to offer his players health insurance.
Some of this may have had later to do with his wife, a church-going girl who’d never even heard the blues before the concert where they met. They stayed together until she died.
His main and fiercest rival was Muddy waters, another helluva musician from Mississippi. Eventually, they made up and were able to play and record together, playing some of each other’s tunes with Bill “Bojangles” on an album.
A man of two parts, he was fierce and wild on stage, throwing, stroking and licking his guitar – and off stage, he was quiet and retiring, also, often nice to young people-regardless of race- who sought him out to find out about the blues.
What is their most iconic song/musical tell:
- Little Red Rooster
- Smokestack Lighting
- Wang Dang Doodle
- I asked for water
Resources to find out more about Howlin’ Wolf:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howlin%27_Wolf – Howlin’ Wolf Wikipedia Page
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9Tw-qau6Hw&list=TLHGHESv28tXeRRyB0j-IkCd9Papi15bHf – The Howlin’ Wolf Story (A great documentary on youtube the other parts are on the playlist)