The Mighty Wolf (and he won’t be back again)
He was known as The Wolf. Chester Burnett, aka The Howlin Wolf, was a giant of a man. At 6 foot 3″ and 300 pounds, his physical presence was, well, substantial. However, it was his music, and the impact that his music has had on everything that followed that makes him a true giant.
The last time I saw Wolf live was not long before his death in 1976. He was unashamed of the tubes embedded in his arm that were needed to hook up to the kidney dialysis machine that was keeping him alive. He still gave an outrageous, and energetic show at The Shaboo Inn in Willimantic, Connecticut.
Man, I love his music to this day. I spend a lot of time listening to the songs I’m currently working on, and a lot of time checking out new music, new artists, and new production. Honestly, I don’t do a lot of listening purely for the joy of it.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll put the work aside, and like visiting a dear friend, put some Wolf on the studio nearfields.
So here’s what this post is really about. I get chills listening to The Howlin Wolf. I get chills when I hear John Lee Hooker’s voice in the night. Those voices, and the voices of some of their peers came from a powerful and hard life experience. Their music came from a truly American experience. A life that was all too real and challenging, a life experience that does not exist today.
There are still really cool blues records being made. There are virtuoso blues musicians that I have the utmost respect for, but for me the chill is gone. I don’t get the chills when I listen to the recreation of that style. I just don’t.
And so, when I’m faced with the prospect of producing a blues record in 2013 and beyond, I want to make sure it doesn’t become a tribute to the past. I want it to stand on its own and reflect the American Experience of the second decade of the 21st century. There’s more than enough real life to reflect on, and shout about. I’m betting there’s a future record out there that might give you the chills.