Howlin' Wolf

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Howlin' Wolf
Years active 1933–1974
Origin White Station, Mississippi
Music genre(s) Blues

Howlin' Wolf (born Chester Arthur Burnett, 1910–1976) was an American blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. He became quite well known in Europe during the 'blues boom' of the 1960s, recording an album, The Howlin' Wolf London Sessions, with Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones' rhythm section, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. His stage name comes from the trademark 'woo-hoo' howling interjection he used on several of his songs, notably his classic 'Smokestack Lightning'.

He was born at White Station, Mississippi, probably somewhere between West Point (Clay County) and Aberdeen (Monroe County), on June 10, 1910. As a musician, he was influenced by Charlie Patton, who taught him the rudiments of slide guitar, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, who helped him learn the mouth organ.

In 1948, he moved to West Memphis, decided to concentrate solely on singing, and formed his own band, featuring the guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who was essential to the band's sound and who remained with Wolf for the rest of his career.

In 1950 and 1951, Wolf made his first recordings for Sam Phillips. In 1952, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he signed with Chess Records, for whom he recorded 'Evil', 'I'm the Wolf', 'Smokestack Lightning', 'Forty-Four' and 'Sittin' On Top of the World'.

In the 1960s, now a mainstay of the urban blues scene in Chicago, he recorded 'The Red Rooster', which, as 'Little Red Rooster', became a hit for the Rolling Stones. In 1964, he appeared at the American Folk Blues Festival. He began to suffer from heart problems, but continued making albums for Chess Records, and in 1970 returned to Europe and recorded the above-mentioned London Sessions. In 1975, he took part in the Chicago International Blues Festival.

In addition to the Stones, Wolf had a major influence on the vocal style of Captain Beefheart.

He died in hospital of a brain tumor on 10 January 1976.