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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 3. 14th March 1973

Chester Burnett AKA 'Howlin' Wolf' — 2 Record Set Chess 2CH60016

Chester Burnett AKA 'Howlin' Wolf' — 2 Record Set Chess 2CH60016

This is one of a series of reissues of Chess Blues material which will also include Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Like them, Howlin' Wolf has been badly represented here until this double LP. There were two good LP's in the 'Real Folk Blues' series which put in a brief appearance, but otherwise we've only had a lavish psychedelic LP which Wolf called dogshit, and recently "The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions" which is merely tame. Apart from these observations his output has been consistently excellent, and Chess would have had no trouble finding four LP's worth of material. As it is there are 24 tracks ranging from 'Moaning at Midnight' of 1951 to 'Killing Floor' of 1965. The selection seems to have been made with an eye to the rock market, as it includes nearly everything that has been attempted by other people — 'Smokestack Lightnin', 'No Place to Go', 'Spoonful' 'The Red Rooster' 'Backdoor Man', 'Sitting on top of the world'.

Howlin' Wolfs trademark is of course his rich, roaring voice. Singing from deep in the throat is a device common in early gospel singing whence it filtered through into soul music; But Wolf takes his inspiration more from those Mississippi blues singers who took the style over into country blues, notably Charlie Patton and Tommy McLennan; and the result is a much more individual, powerful and expressive vehicle than the rather synthetic throaty roars common in soul music.

[Maybe his size has something to do with it - the song "300 pounds of Joy" was almost literally true at one stage : he weighed 20 stone and had to be carried on stage in a chair]

Very rarely is the vocal style used just for effect. Within the limits of the usual blues verse patterns there are constant variations of melody, phrasing and tone which all contribute to a definite emotional flavour. On the earlier tracks especially there is often a repeated riff which allows a lot of variety. As vocals these are probably the best. But they couldn't be done without the very sympathetic backing band (as witness the London Sessions). Though pretty rough technically at first, the band has lots of bite and vigour and knows how to emphasize the vocal lines without cluttering them. Later on the backing becomes more regular and tends to Tight the vocals a bit. In fact there's a general move in the later material to submerge the individual style in favour of spectacular instrumental and vocal work projecting the fat backdoor man image — the crassest example being 'Tail Dragger' and the best I think 'Built for Comfort'. Still it's all good stuff and whether you've heard Howlin' Wolf before or not this is the best anthology there's likely to be.