In the past week or so, I’ve written about the passing of two musicians for whom I’d had a great deal of respect. I found myself wondering if this admittedly morbid trend should take a rest for a little while. I don’t think of myself as an obituary, or epitaph writer. But today, I feel that I have to in some way acknowledge all that was Chester Burnette, who was known to us as “Howlin’ Wolf”. Wolf was not blessed with the charismatic good looks of todays pop music illuminati, but then again, the blues was never meant to be pretty.
Wolf was raw emotion set to music. Rarely in music, can you hear an authenticity in one’s songs, that leave no room for doubt as to whether or not the performer really means the music he makes,or if he is just turning in a performance for a buck. I put him in a small group of musicians, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer and Levon Helm, who had little interest in delivering a “pretty” vocal, but were all about an “honest” vocal. Howlin’ Wolf was the real deal. If you didn’t have the blues when you listened to his music, you felt *his* blues. We lost Howlin’ Wolf on this date in in 1976. The blues has sounded pretty, it’s been given class, and sophistication. But when Chester was delivering it, you got real, raw, unfiltered emotion. You felt every note. Any lead singer that’s come along in the modern age, attempting swagger, machismo and cool, owe a huge debt to Howlin’ Wolf. He could steal your girlfriend, and you woulda been happy about it.
Howlin’ Wolf was the real deal. I have to treat you to some right now..