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Preview: Howlin' Wolf 100th Birthday

Thursday 10th June
The Blues Kitchen

You don’t need to know much about Rhythm and Blues to know that Howlin’ Wolf was one of the all time greats. Chester Arthur Burnett, his real name, would have turned 100 years old if he was still with us on June 10th of this year. Towering over many of his peers back in the 1950's, both with his unbelievable booming vocal talent and literally - at a staggering 6ft 6". He was signed to chess recordings and went on to record 'Smokestack Lightnin', 'Back Door Man' and 'Spoonful' – all now regarded as standards in the music world. His songs have been covered by rock n roll legends over the years, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things and Eric Clapton / Cream.

The Blues Kitchen is playing tribute to the blues legend on his 100th Birthday. The Blues Kitchen House Band will host the night (Last Waltz style!) with guest appearances from the likes of Ian Siegal, The Pretty Things and many others on the night. The bands are going to celebrate the man's extraordinary talent and influence by sticking to the original recordings as best possible.

We asked Liam Spratt, promotions manager at the Blues Kitchen to expand a bit on the lasting appeal of Wolf...

When was the first time you heard Howling Wolf? What impact did it have on you?

Like many of my friends as a kid, our parent’s record collections had lots of hidden gems in them, anything from The Stones, The Who, The Doors etc – all the classics! As I got more and more into listening to these records I began to try and play the guitar along to tunes like ‘Spoonful’ on Cream’s ‘Wheels Of Fire’ album. On closer inspection the name C.A.Burnett kept coming up in the song credits on all these records and for ages I had no idea who this fella was -, I was under the impression that these songs were written by Jagger / Richards or Townsend! After puzzling over this for a good year or so, my step dad brought a computer and we had got the Encarta CD-rom, this is before most people had the internet in their homes - I did my research and found out that Mr Burnett was in fact Howlin’ Wolf! The rest is history really, I went out and got hold of a ‘Best of’ and went home and played it from start to finish, trying to play guitar along to every single track. His voice blew my 12 year old head off, so powerful, completely unlike anything I had ever heard.

What's your favourite Wolf song?

It’s very difficult to pick one but if push comes to shove it would have to be ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’- it is unreal to think that was recorded and released as a single back in 1958. It still sounds so fresh, like it was recorded at Maida Vale a few days ago...


What is it about Howlin' Wolf that means he still exerts such a huge influence over musicians, even now?

It's all about that booming / belting voice, I read once it described as ‘machinery working on a gravel road’ – and let’s face it, no one is going to say that about Robbie Williams or Lady Gaga are they!? I think it is simple, his stuff is timeless, it does not sound tied to any decade. I also think it is really easy to forget about song writing when you talk about the old blues guys because we think of them as standards but these guys MADE the standards – Little Red Rooster, Smokestack Lightnin’, How Many More Years, Back Door Man etc, the list is endless...

Audiences too seem to respond to the songs and the persona - not a few of todays performers adopt 'Wolfism's' and they always seem to go down well. What is it about Wolf the man that is so appealing?

His size surely had something to do with it?! He was a big bugger, 6ft 6" – it would be difficult for him not to have had a presence. Also - Sam Phillips once said, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies" Perhaps that is why the Wolfism’s are still so popular...

Any favourite Wolf stories, or personal experiences related to the man or his music?

My particular favourite Howlin’ Wolf quote can be seen on this You Tube video, he talks about the blues before an amazing performance of How Many More Years...

"A lot of people here say, what it the blues? I hear people saying, the blues, the blues, the blues. Well I 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 holla’ bout’ the blues saying ‘I don’t like no blues’, but when you ain’t got no money and you can’t pay your house rent and can’t buy you no food, you damn sure got the blues..."


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