HOWLIN' WOLF liner notes

Wolf portrait

by Paul Ackerman

ED NOTE: note the many mentions of folk music- in the early '60s, when this was written, folk music was one of the hottest trends in pop

The era of the folk artist- the artist whose songs are earthy and of the people- has experienced a great renaissance. Lovers and students of music today recognize the folk artist for what he is: one of the vital contributors to Musical Americana.

Such a one is Howlin' Wolf, whose colorful name to many record collectors accurately connotes some of the qualities of his music- notably its wild, untamed sound, which conjures up visions of the wilderness and the swamplands.

Howlin' Wolf is a big man in more ways than one. He is six feet, three inches in his stocking feet, and he weighs 275 pounds. His frame is rugged and strong, and these characteristics attest to the fact that he is still a man of the soil. He was born in West Memphis, Arkansas, and in that country, where he lives with his wife, he works a cotton patch of over twenty acres. He was several mules and jackasses to help him with his plowing and other farm chores.

Howlin' Wolf is big in another way. He is, in the judgment of discerning record collectors, one of the great practioners of that most important American folk music form- the blues.

Musically, the blues are marked by a definite structure and system of chord progression- the influence of which pervades much of the world of jazz. In recent years, the world of popular music has increasingly felt the influence of blues- just as it has been influenced by country and western and other folk-derived material. Today's rock and roll, in fact, is an amalgam of just such grass roots song material and the more urban or sophisticated ballad.

The lyric content of folk blues is of special interest. In contrast to the ballad, which tends to present an over-idealization of life, blues presents a factual accounting which more often than not is sad rather than happy. The blues tells of trouble, of faithless men and women, of disaster. But with a human touch, it also tells of hope. Sometimes, too, there are happy, uptempo blues; even satiric blues and didactic blues which teach a lesson.

Many of the aforementioned aspects of folk music and blues will be readily discernable in these sides by Howlin' Wolf. His primitive quality, it may be stated, goes hand-in-hand with the authenticity of his material. Like all folk artists, Howlin' Wolf is a songwriter too, and the songs in this album are all his own. In the true folk tradition, the story each song tells is straight from the heart of Howlin' Wolf.

Also see part 2 of these liner notes, where the songs from the 'Rockin' Chair LP' are described