KEXP Documentaries: Blues for Hard Times – “Smokestack Lightnin'” by Howlin’ Wolf

One of the most electric performers who ever lived, at 6’3″ and 300 pounds, Howlin’ Wolf cut an imposing figure in the Memphis blues scene in the 1950’s.  It was not only his gravelly voice, passionate harmonica playing or wild animal stage antics that made him the hottest act in town. He also used electric guitars in the band, and overdrove the amplifiers to create a sound that was so unique it still sounds modern today.  The success he had in Memphis gave him the means to go to the Chicago blues scene, not on the train or walking like most bluesmen of the time, but in his own car, with 4000 dollars in his pocket.

Wolf came from a poor family in the country and never took his success for granted. He also never forgot his roots, the sounds from his childhood like the trains and the howl of the wolf became part of his trademark sound.

Listen to the KEXP Documentary:

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KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers, with assistance from Jentery Sayers, John Felthouse, Larry Starr and Excecutive Producer Kevin Cole.  You can hear the rest of this series and all of our KEXP Documentaries here.

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  1. babee
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    amazing “chapter”, ive been listening to all kexp documentaries. i love howlin’ wolf, thank you so much. you made my day. :)

  2. Posted May 5, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    I liked hearing this tonight. My interview of Wolf in 1968 reveals in his own words why 13 year old Chester Burnett was forced to run away from his sadistic uncle’s home (as transcribed in the first chapter of the Pantheon biography).

    Sam Philips said, upon seeing and hearing Howlin’ Wolf first sang at Sun studios, “This is it, this is for me! It’s where the soul of man goes and never dies!” The latter line is from a spiritual. It’s difficult to fully hear Wolf’s unique multi-toned voice unless having heard him sing live. It helps to hear the original mono vs the thinner stereo remixes so often found on collections.

    Wolf was a brilliantly creative, focused, wise and caring man, a “wounded healer” who never stopped improving and growing in skills, knowledge and kindness. He got health care and retirement benefits for his band members and also once kept “rival” Muddy Waters afloat during hard times.

    Happy 100th (6/10) birthday, Wolf. my dear friend, music teacher, mentor and creative collaborator of the iconic images (which may be viewed on my site) and the original songs we made which I hope to get onto some compilation this year. You’re not dead. Howl on Wolf, Howl on! ~ Sandy Guy Schoenfeld

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