Howlin Wolf

Howlin’ Wolf’s self titled second album, which has come to be known as ‘The Rockin’ Chair Album’, was originally released by Chess Records as a collection of 6 singles recorded between 1960 and 1962 and since then it has taken on a life of it’s own and become arguably Howlin’ Wolf’s best known and best loved album. This is curious considering that the album was not originally released as an album at all in the traditional sense of the word. It was more like a best of in a lot of respects, and bearing in mind that these tracks were recorded in separate sessions and in different months and even years in some cases, it is interesting to note the changing nature of the recordings themselves – particularly relevant between the opening two tunes, ‘Shake For Me’ and ‘The Red Rooster’.

Why then, one might ask, is this record considered to be one of Howlin’s Wolf’s best if it was just a collection of singles? The answer to this is in the quality of the b-sides. From ‘Spoonful’ down to closer ‘Tell Me’ Wolf is at his absolute best. It’s almost as if he was instructed by his label to just go in and knock something out really quickly so they could tack it onto the existing and more linear singles and you know what they say – when the subconscious is in control the best of ones’ art flourishes.

This writer likes to imagine Leonard and Phil Chess strolling into the studio and saying something like – “Yeah we’ve got the singles in the bag Chester just let it rip for the b-sides”.

Definitely what happened.

Well let it rip he did. Wolf’s ‘Spoonful’ is simply one of the best tunes ever recorded. It’s really just a simple blues traditional in terms of arrangement, but it’s how he delivers it. His voice has a visceral character and an almost sinister quality that takes the music away from slipping into that pool of bluesy lethargy. Also, on tracks like ‘Going Down Slow’ the entire soul of what the blues is really all about is prevalent. The low tones and languid nature of the verses wherein Wolf laments – “I did not say I was a millionaire, but I said I have spent more money than a millionaire”, goes on to belie the cut and pure guts of the brilliant choruses. No one could get the energy out of that tune like Howlin’ Wolf does.

The first half of this album moves between great and in some cases iconic singles – ‘The Red Rooster’, ‘Wang Dang Doodle’. However it’s on side 2 that Wolf really steps into the light and delivers his dynamic and unique voice like never before.

Posted: January 1, 2012

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