4

Howlin' Wolf Hits 100; Did He Ever Hit Houston?

^
Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Like Tom Petty - heard the new album yet? - once sang, it's good to be king. While Rocks Off No. 2 is saddled with justifying his tendency to sing "Over the Rainbow" in the car when (he says) no one else is around, we've been looking into the local connections of someone else with a birthday today: Perhaps our favorite bluesman of all time, Chester Alan Burnett. Better known as Howlin' Wolf, Burnett's sandpaper-rough vocals, swinging harp-heavy arrangements and primal hoodoo-man persona were as iconic and influential as his main Chicago rival, Muddy Waters. His style still resonates today - the Rolling Stones have always been big fans, Jack White loves to cover "Killing Floor" (see below) and have a listen to the lead track of that Petty album, "Jefferson Jericho Blues." Wolf would have been 100 years old today. Unfortunately, during his lifetime - which ended in 1976, two months after he collapsed following a Chicago performance alongside B.B. King, Albert King and O.V. Wright, among others, and blew them all off the stage at age 65 - he doesn't seem to have made it down to Houston much. Rocks Off asked Mark Hoffman, co-author of definitive 2004 bio Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf and administrator of howlinwolf.com, if there were any Houston-related tales of the Wolfman. Since the Mississippi native spent many of his pre-Chicago years in West Memphis, Ark., and was a pre-Elvis/Jerry Lee/Johnny Cash/Carl Perkins discovery of Sun Records overlord Sam Phillips, we figured there might be. Nope. "I searched my notes, but I can't find a single reference to Wolf playing in Houston," Hoffman told us via email. "He did play in New Orleans [where a nightclub now bears his name] once in a while, so it's not farfetched to think that he got over to Houston once or twice, but I can't find any references to it and I don't remember any stories of him playing there." Hoffman referred us to longtime Houston blues historian Mack McCormick. Not only did Wolf play here, McCormick said, but he may have even recorded here. However, if he did, that information is more or less lost to the ages - after thumbing through Mike Leadbetter and Neal Slaven's Blues Records 1943-1966, which McCormick called the definitive printed discography of postwar blues, he couldn't find any evidence of Wolf recording in Houston. If he did, he said, it would have been for the RPM label, and the information in the Leadbetter/Slaven book doesn't list where the songs released on RPM were recorded. But Wolf definitely played here a time or two, McCormick swears. "I saw him here, I'm pretty sure - it was a place on Dowling Street. I don't remember the name." Wolf was played by Eamonn Walker (Oz) in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. Here are a few of Rocks Off's favorites: "Smokestack Lightnin'": "Howlin' for My Darling": "Spoonful": "Evil": "Killing Floor" (as covered by the White Stripes): "Red Rooster": "How Many More Years": "Wang Dang Doodle": "Back Door Man": "Coon on the Moon":

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.