Monday, March 28, 2011

“LISTEN, BABY, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LOVED BY A MAN THEY CALL THE WOLF?”

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[From the STMcC archive; 2006, May 21]


Don't listen to the so-called Blues purists! 'THE LONDON HOWLIN' WOLF SESSIONS' will rock your socks off. And if you go barefooted, then you'd better hang onto your hat!

I remember when the eponymous 'Van Halen' album was released in 1978, some writer for a music magazine reviewed it and criticized the song 'You Really Got Me' for being spunkless. "Spunkless"? There's a lot of things one might say about that song, but "spunkless" damn sure ain't one of them. Similarly, this Howlin' Wolf album has been frequently denigrated by Blues fans who like to appear highbrow and above the "adulterated" late-period Blues that found White wannabes collaborating with the genuine Black articles. It doesn't seem to matter to these people that the songs here are so hot they're smokin'!

In the very early 1980s when I was first considering buying this album (in the vinyl form), I saw a review in which the writer said that the tepid playing from the famous English Rock instrumentalists backing Howlin' Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett, 1910-1976) on this recording suggested that the young White boys were intimidated by the huge, old, Black Bluesman (Wolf was six feet three inches tall and weighed two hundred and seventy-five pounds). I nearly passed on this record because of that asinine comment. (Yeah, the playing is tepid just like Van Halen’s 'You Really Got Me' is "spunkless"!)

Fortunately, curiosity got the best of me, I purchased the "licorice pizza" (now in the CD format), and I've been happily rockin' out to this bad boy for about twenty-one years now. And although I am well-educated in The Blues (I was probably drinking heavily late at night to Robert Johnson's, 'King Of The Delta Blues Singers' before you were born) this is still one of my most frequently spun Blues sets - and when I do spin it, I crank it up LOUD because it scares the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons off of my front porch!

Sure, Wolf was old and ill when these tracks were cut (1970), but can you find one young White or Black contemporary rebel singer who sounds even half as ferocious as the Wolf does here? Don't bother answering - that was a rhetorical question because "NO" is the obvious reply.

From the opening track, 'ROCKIN' DADDY', with its thick rhythm, Eric Clapton's fiery guitar licks, and the Wolf singing enticements to a woman (trying his best not to scare her off), it's clear that this quasi-Blues/Rock amalgamation is going to kick rump. And boy does it ever!

"YES, THEY CALL ME 'THE ROCKER'; I CAN REALLY ROCK YOU ALL NIGHT LONG. I CAN LET YOU DOWN EASY WHEN I THINK YOUR MONEY'S GONE."

'Rockin' Daddy' moves right into the slightly slower, but no less rhythmically chunky and no less ferocious, 'I AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUS.' The one-two punch of the piano and horns is enough to frighten the fainthearted, and that's without even mentioning the menace in Wolf's deep howl and the "sexual" tension throughout.

"WELL, THE DOGS ALL HOWLIN' ALL OVER THE NEIGHBORHOOD. THAT'S A TRUE SIGN THINGS AIN'T NO GOOD...PLAY IT ON! GO 'HEAD AND HOWL UNDER THE MOONLIGHT, 'CAUSE I GOT MY BABY BY MY SIDE; BOYS, SHE THE SWEETEST THING YOU EVER SEEN. YOUR DOGS IS HOWLIN', AND THE HOUNDS. --PLAY!!!-- LISTEN, BABY, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LOVED BY A MAN THEY CALL THE WOLF?"

"I'M WORRIED ABOUT YOU, BABY. AND YOU'D BETTER BE WORRIED ABOUT ME!"

"I'M GONNA LEAVE YOU, WOMAN, BEFORE I COMMIT A CRIME."

The dialogue between Wolf and the White Rockers before they launch into 'THE RED ROOSTER' is classic: Trying to get Wolf to play the acoustic guitar on the track, Clapton feigns an inability to grasp his part unless he can visually follow the Wolf's fingering. After some cajoling, Wolf - indisputably the alpha in this pack - puts an end to the discussion when he emphatically says, "Alright, let's get on it!" And do they ever! And borrowing from the Wolf's command, I've been continually using that phrase, "Alright, let's get on it", for the last twenty-one years.

"SOME FOLKS BUILT LIKE THIS; SOME FOLKS BUILT LIKE THAT. BUT THE WAY I'M BUILT, DON'TCHA CALL ME FAT. BECAUSE I'M BUILT FOR COMFORT; I AIN'T BUILT FOR SPEED. BUT I GOT EVERYTHING, OH, A GOOD GIRL NEEDS."

"WE GONNA PITCH A WANG DANG DOODLE ALL NIGHT LONG. LET ME HOWL TO YA: WA-OOO! WA-OOO! WA-OOO! ALL NIGHT-- WA-OOO!"

If you're already a Blues enthusiast, there's no reason for you not to own the Wolf's early, rawest material found on the "Twofer", 'Howlin' Wolf / Moanin' In The Moonlight'. That collection includes his standards, 'Spoonful'; 'Smokestack Lightnin''; 'Evil'; and 'Goin' Down Slow'. But if you're coming straight from the Rock genre, then 'THE LONDON HOWLIN' WOLF SESSIONS' is a perfect place for you to be introduced to this mountain of a man and one of the true giants in Blues.

Either way, this album should be kept within reach of everyone who wants a surefire way to answer the door when the proselytizers show up on the porch. At the first knock on your door, crank up the Wolf and then watch how fast they skedaddle. One time, two women dropped their 'Watchtower' pamphlets on my porch and outran their undergarments - left 'em right there in an indecorous heap on my stoop. And I had one Mormon man bolt so fast that his toupee was still hanging in midair when I opened the door!

No doubt about it, ya simply MUST have this Wolf album in yer collection. "ALRIGHT, LET'S GET ON IT!"

BONUS MATERIAL:
About a year and a half ago, my dear friend the Flyin’ Aardvark presented me with a really cool gift: The 4-episode, 2-DVD box set titled ‘AMERICAN ROOTS MUSIC’. If you haven’t seen it, you oughta. In episode #3 called The Times They Are A-Changin’, there’s a great interview segment with singer Bonnie Raitt in which she says of Howlin’ Wolf:

“I’ve never gotten over seeing Howlin’ Wolf and I never will. I listen to his records and it makes me feel the same feeling of eighteen: Oh my God, this is what men are about? And I haven’t really gone there yet and I’m just, you know— to watch him and listen to his voice – there’s nobody that can live up to the promise of that much scary maleness.

“And he just laid it on; he’s sweaty, he’s out of control, he’s playin’ it like he’s -- he’s workin’ you like he’s -- I’m a pretty powerful person and I was in his power; and the dream of every strong woman is to be overcome by a strong guy, and that guy gets me. From the moment I watched him, I said I’m – take me!, take me!, take me! – and I’ll be in love with him for the rest of my life”.
-- Bonnie Raitt

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

LINK:
I loves me some Howlin’ Wolf! Wolf is not only my all-time favorite Bluesman, but he’s a person I admire for the many good personal qualities he possessed. (The story of his relationship with his devoutly religious Mother and that episode when he last saw her alive is truly heartbreaking. HEARTBREAKING! THAT is the Blues in real life!)

Muddy was genuinely GREAT; Wolf was the best.

If you haven’t read enough words yet about The Wolf, and you wish to read mo’ stuffs I’ve written ‘bout Wolf (not to mention a small excerpt from my unproduced screenplay), click the link below:

AW-WOOO! WEREWOLVES OF MISSISSIPPI

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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2 comments:

DiscConnected said...

I concur with the above review, except for the part about listening to it before I was born.

This was one that Stephen T. turned me onto, and it does rock.

Unfortunately, while I do have a pretty good stereo, I still need a shotgun to keep the JW's off of my porch.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

TODDFAN DISCMAN ~
>>....."...except for the part about listening to it before I was born."

True.
You were probably 17 or 18 years old while I was drinking heavily to Robert Johnson's "King Of The Delta Blues Singers" album.

Which means, of course, that at that time, you were smoking pot and/or drinking heavily to The Jackson Five. Well, maybe Bruce Springsteen. Either way, you hadn't discovered "Black" music yet.

>>.....Unfortunately, while I do have a pretty good stereo, I still need a shotgun to keep the JW's off of my porch.

You can't fool me! You haven't yet tried Howlin' Wolf against the Jehovahs' Witnesses. I know, because a shotgun will only scare them, but Howlin' Wolf sends 'em straight to hell!
;o)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'