“Howlin’ Wolf” by Howlin’ Wolf - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1962Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s

TJR says

Howlin’ Wolf is now in his early 50s, but he’s in his prime with this characterful offering. Rough, tough and sexy – this was one of the greatest blues albums ever committed to vinyl. The long-awaited second LP from the artist was delivered in January ’62 – almost three years on from his first full-length. Once again, the set was a compilation, with all 12 selections having featured on 45s from the preceding two years, as well as both sides of the brand spanking new single, “You’ll Be Mine” / “Goin’ Down Slow”, recorded just a few weeks earlier and released simultaneously with the LP.

Since the turn of the 60s, producer Willie Dixon has assumed a greater role in Wolf’s crew, on a par with the great man in all but the billing. Where he was only responsible for “Evil” on the first LP, Willie’s pen is now engaged for 9 of the 12 songs here, albeit leaning knowingly on motifs from decades past. The classics seemed to be flowing easy at this time; the Wolf is masterful vocally and with slide guitar on the slithering “Little Red Rooster”; “You’ll Be Mine” is a joyous Rock n Roll romp; “Spoonful” walks like a panther; “Down in the Bottom” has choppy licks to die for, with more supreme slide guitar action from the Wolf, and “Back Door Man” is pure sex, with Howlin’ Wolf driving it home like a perfectly bred stud.

Ironically, despite such a slew of riches, the album’s supreme moment is a cover version, as the crew exhume, dissect and reinvigorate St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s 1941 piece “Goin’ Down Slow”. Death bed rumination is the play, with both bassist Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf taking turns to portray the mind-set of the protagonist. Willie Dixon: “Man, you know I don' enjoy things that kings and queens will never have, in fact things kings and queens can never get, and they don't even know about. And good times, mmmmm”. The Wolf continues to reminisce philosophically: “I have had my fun, if I never get well no more… Oh my health is fading, oh yes I'm goin’ down slow”

This is the story of a man who has lived fast. Willie Dixon pipes up again: “Now looky here, I did not SAY I was a millionaire, but I said I have spent more MONEY than a millionaire. 'Coz if I had a kept all the money that I had already spent, I would've been a millionaire a long time ago. And women? Great googily moogily!” It lands with the Wolf to deliver the killer twist, as an air of regret takes over: “Please write my momma, tell her the shape I'm in… Tell her to pray for her son, forgive me for my sins.”

All of a sudden we are suddenly faced with the possibility that this is almost delivered autobiographically. Wolf’s momma, Gertrude, seems like a cruel one. She evicted her son, barely a cub, from the home farm, citing charges of “laziness”. During the peak of his success, he returned from Chicago to see his old mother in his home town and was driven to tears when she rebuffed him. A religious freak, she refused to take money offered by him, saying it was from his playing of the “devil's music”. The song fades mournfully, with Hubert Sumlin’s guitar and Henry Gray’s piano framing the dying man’s lament to perfection. It genuinely stands as one of the greatest recordings ever laid down, a real drama-laden spine-tingler, with sheer excellence from the entire cast.

I put it to you old Gertrude had no soul.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [02:12] 6.3.png Howlin’ Wolf - Shake For Me (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A2 [02:22] 9.4.png Howlin’ Wolf - The Red Rooster (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A3 [02:25] 8.5.png Howlin’ Wolf - You’ll Be Mine (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A4 [02:18] 6.6.png Howlin’ Wolf - Who’s Been Talking? [single version ’60] (Chester Burnett) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A5 [02:18] 8.3.png Howlin’ Wolf - Wang-Dang-Doodle (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A6 [02:45] 8.2.png Howlin’ Wolf - Little Baby (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B1 [02:42] 9.0.png Howlin’ Wolf - Spoonful (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B2 [03:18] 10.0.png Howlin’ Wolf - Goin’ Down Slow (Jimmy Oden) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B3 [02:05] 9.9.png Howlin’ Wolf - Down In The Bottom (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B4 [02:45] 9.3.png Howlin’ Wolf - Back Door Man (Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B5 [02:28] 7.7.png Howlin’ Wolf - Howlin’ For My Darling (Chester Burnett, Willie Dixon) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B6 [02:52] 7.6.png Howlin’ Wolf - Tell Me (Chester Burnett) Blues / Rhythm n Blues

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