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Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), known as Howlin' Wolf, was an influential American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player.
He was born in West Point, Mississippi, in an area now known as White Station.With a booming voice and looming physical presence, Burnett is commonly ranked among the leading performers in electric blues; musician and critic Cub Koda declared, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits".
A number of songs written or popularized by Burnett—such as "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Back Door Man", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful"—have become blues and blues rock standards.He was a large man and had an imposing presence, with one of the loudest and most memorable voices of all the "classic" 1950s Chicago blues singers.
This rough-edged, slightly fearsome musical style is often contrasted with the less crude but still powerful presentation of his contemporary and professional rival, Muddy Waters.Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Little Walter Jacobs, and Muddy Waters are usually regarded in retrospect as the greatest blues artists who recorded for Chess in Chicago.
Sam Phillips once remarked, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me.
This is where the soul of man never dies.'" In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 51st on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".1930s and 1940sIn 1930, Burnett met Charley Patton, the most popular bluesman in the Mississippi Delta at the time.
He would listen to Patton play nightly from outside a nearby juke joint.
There he remembered Patton playing "Pony Blues", "High Water Everywhere", "A Spoonful Blues", and "Banty Rooster Blues".
The two became acquainted and soon Patton was teaching him guitar.
Burnett recalled that: "The first piece I ever played in my life was ...
a tune about hook up my pony and saddle up my black mare" (Patton's "Pony Blues").
He also learned about showmanship from Patton: "When he played his guitar, he would turn it over backwards and forwards, and throw it around over his shoulders, between his legs, throw it up in the sky".
Burnett could perform the guitar tricks he learned from Patton for the rest of his life.
He played with Patton often in small Delta communities.Burnett was influenced by other popular blues performers of the time including the Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Blind Blake, and Tommy Johnson.
Two of the earliest songs he mastered were Jefferson's "Match Box Blues" and Leroy Carr's "How Long, How Long Blues".
Country singer Jimmie Rodgers was also an influence.
He tried to emulate Rodgers' "blue yodel", but found that his efforts sounded more like a growl or a howl.
"I couldn't do no yodelin'", Barry Gifford quoted him as saying in Rolling Stone, "so I turned to howlin'.
And it's done me just fine".
His harmonica playing was modeled after that of Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson II), who had taught him how to play when Burnett moved to Parkin, Arkansas, in 1933.During the 1930s, Burnett performed in the South as a solo performer and with a number of blues musicians, including Floyd Jones, Johnny Shines, Honeyboy Edwards, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Johnson, Robert Jr.
Lockwood, Willie Brown, Son House and Willie Johnson.
On April 9, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S.
Army and was stationed at several army bases around the country.
Finding it difficult to adjust to military life, Burnett was discharged on November 3, 1943.
He returned to his family, who had recently moved near to West Memphis, Arkansas, and helped with the farming while also performing as he had done in the 1930s with Floyd Jones and others.
In 1948 he formed a band which included guitarists Willie Johnson and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, harmonica player Junior Parker, a pianist remembered only as "Destruction" and drummer Willie Steele.
He began broadcasting on KWEM in West Memphis, alternating between performing and pitching equipment on his father's farm.
Later, Sam Phillips heard him and in 1951 signed him for Memphis Recording Service.Honors and InductionsOn September 17, 1994, the US Post Office issued a Howlin' Wolf 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.
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