Howlin' Wolf

The Compact Discs

excerpts from the magazine "The Blues Collection - Volume 7" published by Orbis Publishing Ltd., Griffin House, 161 Hammersmith Road, London W6 8SD, UK. Thanks to Geoff Pullen

The highways and byways of Howlin' Wolf's recording career have been traversed many times by specialist labels, and the discovery and release of many alternative takes and demo recordings have left the map of his re-issued work almost illegibly complex. If you haven't the patience to decipher it and simply want a well-rounded selection of Wolf's major work, look for the three-CD set "Howlin' Wolf" (MCA/Chess CHD3-9332), which spans his studio life from his debut recordings to his final album date.

"The Chess Masters" (Blue Moon CDBM 087) also starts with Wolf's first sides, going on to pick randomly but quite well from the early-to-middle 1950's. It will probably look better when Blue Moon augments it with a volume or two of later material.

For a more microscopic examination of Wolf's work, it's well worth beginning with "Memphis Days - The Definitive Edition Vol 1" (Bear Family) and "Howlin' Wolf Rides Again" (Ace), which surveys the recordings Wolf made for Sam Phillips and Ike Turner and feature the red-hot guitar of Willie Johnson. There was no finer band than this one on the early 1950's southern juke-joint scene. "Memphis Days - The Definitive Edition Vol. 2" (Bear Family BCD 15500) is mostly devoted to alternative recordings of songs on Vol. 1.

The Chess recordings from the mid-1950's to mid 1960's are efficiently sampled on the Charly/Chess compilations "Moanin' and Howlin'" and "I'm The Wolf". Covering parts of the same ground are "Who Will Be Next?" in Charly's Blues Masterworks series (CD BM 30) and the generously programmed instant set "Smokestack Lightning".

The dozen tracks that made up the celebrated "Rocking Chair Album" are split 10-2 between Chess CDs, and if you want to savour the programme in its original running-order you need either the unchanged CD reissue on French Vogue (VG 600 111), if it's still procurable, or the first half of "The Red Rooster" (Double Play GRF026). The rest of the latter CD is a rather dubious concoction of rejected takes and poor re-mastering, but it's so cheap that maybe you won't mind.

Another compilation CD, "Killing Floor" (CDCD 1041) has been issued by Charly and includes many of Wolf's famous numbers and a few not so famous.

In 1971 and at the age of 61, the Wolf went into a London (UK) studio to make an album with such luminaries of British blues and Rock as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ringo Starr, Charley Watts and Bill Wyman. These "London Sessions" recently issued on CD by Charly (BLU NC 007), masterley recreated the atmosphere of 1950's Chicago.

Wolf's last album, "The Back Door Wolf", has been re-issued on LP by French Vogue (515013) and will probably turn up on an MCA/Chess CD before long.