Howlin' Wolf - The Chess Box
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A good review (excerpt from Ama_zon):
|“||Reviewer: Docendo Discimus (Vita scholae)|
This is a sublime, exquisitely packaged collection of Howlin' Wolf's awe-inspiring brand of blues.
Just under 3 1/2 hours of music, opening with Wolf's eerie, wordless "throat singing" on 1951's "Moaning At Midnight", and ending with the opening track, "Moving", off his final studio album.
A lot of people have covered Wolf's songs, but none have come close to matching his ferocious sandpaper voice, and Howlin' Wolf in his prime was without a doubt the most electrifying performer the Chicago blues clubs had even experienced. Standing 6'4" and weighing 275 lbs, Wolf towered over everybody, literally as well as figuratively.
Starting off as a strict Charley Patton-imitator, Chester Arthur Burnett showed up in the juke joints of Mississippi in the late 30s with one of the first electric guitars anyone had ever seen, and when he finally started recording (for Sam Phillips' Sun Records in 1951), he was 41 years old and had been performing for two decades down in the cotton belt.
He suddenly had two hits on the R&B list at the same time ("Moanin' At Midnight" and the clanging, piano-driven "How Many More Years"), and in the winter of 1953, Wolf headed out of the South (in his own brand new $4,000 car), settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he would record for Chess Records right up until his death from kidney failure in January, 1976:
"-I'm the onliest one", he said, "-drove out of the South like a gentleman!"
"The Chess Box" collects every hit the Wolf ever had, as well as B-sides, album tracks, rare acoustic solo performances, and a few short interview snippets. The only thing that could have made this collection any better would have been a fourth CD of live tracks.
The first CD collects Wolf's singles from 1951-1955, including the up-tempo, R&B-styled "Mr Highway Man" (excellent piano playing by Albert Williams), the Charley Patton-classic "Saddle My Pony", a remake of John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Bluebird" (oddly credited to John Lee Hooker), the classics "Evil" and "Forty-Four", and the harp-driven "Just My Kind".
The first fifteen songs feature Wolf's original lead guitarist Willie Johnson, after which Lee Cooper takes over.
Johnson's aggressive, fiery guitar playing suited Wolf's songs perfectly, and he was surrounded by a slew of excellent blues pianists, from Ike Turner to L.C. Hubert, but around 1955 a more fixed band constellation started to take form, featuring bassist, arranger and composer Willie Dixon, and a fabulous young guitar player, Hubert Sumlin, who would stay with the Wolf right up until his death, and who became an idol for guitar players like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Disc 2 is even better, mixing Wolf's originals with Willie Dixon's more contemporary compositions. Highlights include the all-time blues classic "Smokestack Lightnin'", composed by the Wolf himself, and featuring some of his best harp playing, as well as axe-men Hubert Sumlin and Willie Johnson playing side by side (one of only two sides where they appear together).
And then there's Wolf's take on Tommy Johnson's awesome "I Asked Her For Water (she brought me gasoline)", Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious", "Shake For Me", "The Red Rooster", "Howlin' For My Darling" and "Down In The Bottom", and the classic "Sitting On Top Of The World". The supremely catchy "(Meet Me) Down In The Bottom" features Johnny Johnson on piano and Jimmy Rogers on guitar, but it's Wolf himself playing the fills and the main slide guitar riff heard during the intro and the instrumental break, and he plays as well on "The Red Rooster", "You'll Be Mine" and several other tracks.
Disc 3 opens with one of Willie Dixon's best compositions for Wolf, the up-tempo, almost rock n' roll-like "Hidden Charms". Backed by two sax players, Donald Hankins and Elmore James' saxist J.T. Brown, Hubert Sumlin lays down what has been called the best guitar solo ever recorded.
Dixon's other contributions, the silly "Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy" and "Built For Comfort", are almost novelty songs, but the superb arrangement makes them work.
And the rest of the disc features mainly Wolf's own songs, plus a powerful rendition of "Dust My Broom", and a 1970 recording of "The Red Rooster" featuring Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and Stevie Winwood.
The sax-augumented "Love Me Darlin'" rolls along like a steam train, creating a magnificent groove, and Wolf's gravelly vocals on "I Walked From Dallas" and the awesome "New Crawling King Snake" must be heard to be believed.
CD 3 also includes two interesting acoustic solo performances, as well as the funky "My Mind Is Ramblin'" and "My Country Sugar Mama" (fine harp playing by the Wolf), and the menacing "Commit A Crime".
But the best song on the disc (and probably the best song of Wolf's career) is without a doubt the magnificent "Killing Floor", Howlin' Wolf's own composition and one of the defining classics of electric Chicago blues.
It opens with a supremely catchy guitar riff from Hubert Sumlin (Buddy Guy is playing the acoustic slap-back rhythm guitar), and the two-sax horn section of Arnold Rogers and Donald Hankins plays soul-revue stabs. And when the mighty Wolf finally opens his mouth it becomes clear that though Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix may have nicked the riff, the song itself belongs forever to the Howlin' Wolf, and those who dare try to cover it do so at their peril.
An essential addition to any serious collection of electric blues.