Howlin’ Wolf, “Smokestack Lightnin'”

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Today is the birthday of Chester Arthur Burdett, a.k.a, Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976). Influenced by Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others, Burdett had been playing for nearly 20 years before he started recording at Sun Studios in Memphis and became a full time blues musician. Reportedly, in live performance he was quite imposing, at six feet six inches tall, and nearly 300 lbs. But his voice on record — surely the most extreme in show business (sounds like a buzz saw ripping through green pine wood) — is plenty memorable enough. He is associated with a long list of Chicago blues classics, many of which were later covered by younger rock musicians. These include his own compositions such as “Smokestack Lightnin'” and “Killing Floor”, but also several by his frequent collaborator Willie Dixon, like “Spoonful'”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “Little Red Rooster”, “Back Door Man” and “Wang Dang Doodle”. He died of kidney disease in 1976.

To find out about  the history of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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