Howlin' Wolf was a musical giant in every way. He stood 6' 3", wore size 16 shoes, had skin so dark it shined like silver, and poured out his darkest sorrows in a voice that sounded like a rampaging chainsaw. Half a century after his first hits, Wolf's sound still terrifies and inspires.
Born Chester Arthur Burnett in 1910, the Wolf survived a grim childhood and hard-scrabble youth as a sharecropper in Mississippi. He began his career playing and singing in perilous juke joints with the first Delta blues stars in the 1930s and 1940s. He was present at the birth of rock 'n' roll in Memphis and helped define the sound of electric blues in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. He ended his career performing and recording with the world's most famous rock stars in the 1970s. His passion for music kept him performing-despite devastating physical problems-until his death in 1976.
This DVD shows Howlin' Wolf prowling on stage at the first Washington D.C. Blues Festival in November 1970, supported by his top-notch band. Hear him moan his earth-shaking blues and watch his unforgettable stage antics and you'll see why Sam Phillips - who also discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis - called Howlin' Wolf his greatest discovery.
Titles Include: Highway 49, How Many More Years, Killing Floor, Howlin' For My Baby, Back Door Man, I Want To Have a Word With You, Smile At Me, Decoration Day and Sittin' On Top Of The World
The Band: Howlin' Wolf, vocals and harmonica - Sunnyland Slim, piano - Hubert Sumlin, guitar - Randy Joe Fullerton, bass - S. P. Leary, drums
Running Time: 60 minutes
Review: Wow - it doesn't get much better than this! There is precious little live footage of the great Howlin' Wolf available so this release is a real stunner. Not only has not been out before but it captures Wolf in top form accompanied by a great band including the mind bending guitar work of Hubert Sumlin and the piano of Sunnyland Slim. Wolf howls the blues, prowls the stage like a caged animal and wails on the harmonica on classic Wolf favorites like "Highway 49/ How Many More Years/Killing Floor/Back Door Man/Decoration Day" and others. In between songs there are fascinating excerpts of an interview with Wolf and Sunnyland. Video and sound quality are excellent. A real treasure and a must have for blues lovers. - Frank Scott at Roots & Rhythm
Review: Question: How does a 6'3" 300-pound Howlin' Wolf perform? Answer: Any way he damn well pleases. So crawling on all fours may not be a conventional mode of entrance to the center-stage microphone, nor is sprawled down on the floor the typical stance for singing a song. But who'd dare inform Big Chester? With eyes wildly twitching, size-16 shoes stamping across the bandstand, and voice in full roar, the Eighth Wonder of the World was all-consuming in performance even in the face of a dream band who'd induce goose bumps in their own iconic right. Yet this was the almighty Wolf in theatrical action; beyond the pale; and In Concert, 1970 at the first Washington D.C.L. Blues Festival. Here "Killing Floor," "Howling' For My Baby" and "Back Door Man" became vehicles for animated showmanship which proved that then touring young rockers like the strutting Mick Jagger or a shambling Jim Morrison had nothing on this 60-year-old Tail Dragger. He'd sing, blow harp, gnaw harp, stand, sit, kneel, stomp, sneer, taunt, cuss, leer, and profusely rap to the crowd. Meanwhile guitarist Hubert Sumlin, pianist Sunnyland Slim, drummer S.P. Leary, and bassist Randy Joe Fullerton kept on fire, fiercely vamping, torquing it down, feeding their captain repeated chances for re-entry back into the song. Eventually he'd grab a hold of the lyrics again and off they'd ride. Interview segments, along with color footage of an Eddie Shaw boosted "Sittin' On Top Of The World," complement this B&W spectacle that's a must for your to do list. - Dennis Rozanski/BluesRag
Review: To review this performance video of the late blues singer, Howlin' Wolf is to know what it is to be irrelevant. One might just as well review an earthquake or volcanic eruption; Wolf was that kind of force of nature, and in the face of his performance here, the kind of considerations normally brought into play in music criticism come up woefully short. I'll give it a shot, though.
At the time that this video was filmed at the Washington, DC, Blues Festival in 1970, Howlin' Wolf (born Chester Burnett in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 1910) was a robust 60-year-old man, big and strong, with tremendous vitality. He'd already had a long career at that point, and was one of the progenitors of the amplified Chicago blues sound. His band here was quite strong - thoroughly familiar with his music and his way of doing things. They take care of the musical background pretty unflappably throughout the course of the performance.
Wolf enters the stage crawling, his rear end waving in the air, demonstrating why he is known as the Tail Dragger. He mugs, shambles around the stage, engages in spoken asides with members of the audience and the band, and eventually winds up planted in a small chair, front and center. I don't know that I've ever seen anyone appear so kinetic while seated. Wolf's behavior throughout the show is so unusual and so exaggeratedly larger than life, that at various points in the performance he seems fierce, kind, funny, sad, dead drunk, demented, sober, sage, smacked out, clownish, and inscrutable. He is, in any event, compulsively watchable. You can't take your eyes off of him.
As Wolf works his way into the show, it becomes apparent that he is interested not only in singing the blues, but also in explaining the blues. He wants the audience to understand. His performance persona, something I've always been leery of in musicians, turns out to be a huge part of the way he communicates with the audience. The music he delivers is highly stylized and personal and very effective, both in a dramatic and musical sense. His singing is simultaneously big and nuanced, and especially on "I Want to Have a Word with You," simply beautiful. He is ably abetted and supported throughout, most particularly by the great Sunnyland Slim, playing a Fender Rhodes here and Hubert Sumlin, who is just sensational (his signature riff on "Killing Floor" sets an awfully high standard for cool playing). They can go anywhere Wolf wants to take them.
There is certainly no one and nothing like Howlin' Wolf on the current Chicago blues scene, and there are precious few like him out there performing in any style. If you enjoy well-played Chicago blues and supercharged charismatic performers, you will have a hard time finding better than this DVD. - John Miller/The Old-Time Herald