By Ken Wallis, Blues & Roots Radio
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“The blues tells a story. Every line of the blues has a meaning.”
John Lee Hooker
Well we got a lot of stories to tell in this blog.
Canal Bank Shuffle Wrap Up
Once again, the dedicated group of blues enthusiasts in Thorold put on one terrific bluesy event. Crowds of blues fans jammed the halls, clubs and restaurants in support of the 16th Annual Canal Bank Shuffle and it was a 4 day event to remember. It’s just impossible to catch every performance but what a great time was had by all.
I was only able to catch a small smattering of the blues greats that were there but what I did see, was just fantastic.
We started it off with catching Alife Smith and Nicole Christian at an intimate restaurant to start Friday off.
And by the way, these two are on their way to compete at the International Blues Competition in Memphis. They’re having a fund-raiser to support their efforts at Hamilton’s Bay City Hall on November 10th. Tickets are only $10 at the door.
Then we caught some great soulful music with Lou Rawls.
For me, the highlight of the whole festival hit the stage on Friday. Dawn Tyler Watson and Ben Racine. What more can you say? Two winners from the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2017. Ben won for guitarist in a band and Dawn placed first in the challenge. She’s the first woman and the first Canadian to win the Memphis Challenge. And at the Canal Band Shuffle she and Ben showed why they won. Here are a bunch of pictures ‘cause I just can’t resist.
Then Anthony Gomes literally blew the roof off the hall with his guitar wailing in full force
We also saw Jenny Thai who’s really gathering a ton of fans since moving to Toronto from out west.
And we also got to see Lance Anderson and THE LAST WALTZ, a salute to The Band.
Even Matt Weidinger dropped in the share some of the tunes.
I can’t wait for next year and the 17th Annual Canal Band Shuffle.
Tribute to Muddy and Wolf
Last week we mentioned the upcoming tribute to Muddy and the Wolf and we gave some background info on Muddy.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Wolf and walk down another history road of the blues.
Howlin’ Wolf was born in 1910 in Mississippi and was named Chester Arthur Burnett. He became a blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, and with his raspy voice and large physical presence, he became one of the best-known Chicago blues artists.
There appear to many different versions of how he got his name Howlin' Wolf". Wolf himself said he got it from his grandfather when he was a child. His grandfather would tell him stories about wolves and threatened Chester that if he misbehaved the howling wolves would get him. Others claim the name came from his ability to howl like a wolf, which became a sort of trademark when he took the stage.
Like Muddy Waters, who had a rough childhood, Burnett's parents separated when he was only a year old. His mother tossed him out of the house when he refused to work on the farm. He then moved in with his stern uncle who treated him cruelly. When he was thirteen, he ran away to live with his father and there he found a happy home.
He expressed an interest in music and took up the harmonica and his father bought him a guitar. Charlie Patton, the popular delta bluesman took Chester under wing and taught him how to play the instrument. Wolf learned how to play harmonica thanks to Sonny Boy Williamson, who saw the talent in Wolf and tutored him how to blow the reed.
In the early 50s, Sun Record producer Sam Philipps recorded Wolf’s first two songs and Leonard Chess signed him soon after to a contract and Hubert Sumlin became his long-time guitarist. When Wolf hit Chicago, he soon found the blues world he was seeking. When he took the stage, audiences were almost intimidated by his presence as he stood 6 foot 3 and weighed over 300 pounds.
Many of his hits tunes were written by Willie Dixon, who also wrote songs for Muddy Waters. Wolf actually accused Willie of giving his best tunes to Muddy and not letting Wolf have his fair share.
Wolf recorded so many tunes that became classics like Smokestack Lightnin’, Killing Floor, Spoonful, Built For Comfort, Wang Dang Doodle and Who’s Talkin’.
A couple of quick notes. Killing Floor has often been identified as a song about the slaughterhouses in Chicago. But Hubert Sumlin has a different story. In the book Language of the Blues by Debra DeSalvo, Sumlin claims Killing Floor means a woman has you down and out which came after Wolf’s beau took a double-barrelled shotgun and filled his backside with buckshot.
To this day Wolf’s songs are recorded by many artists and Joe Bonamassa saluted Wolf by recording Who’s Talkin’ in 2012 and included an audio clip of Wolf talking to his band.
Wolf’s popularity soared in the sixties with rock n roll audiences. Many of his tunes were covered by the new generation such as the Rolling Stones and Cream. The Stones were so enamoured with Wolf that when they appeared on the tv show Shindig, they insisted Wolf had to do a tune
What followed later was one of my favourite albums, The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions.
Wolf takes center stage with some of his classic tunes. Backing him was a lineup of accomplished artists including Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts of the Stones, plus Ringo Starr.
Wolf’s health started to fail in the early 70s and his last album was The Back Door Wolf in 1973. His last live performance was in November 1975 at the Chicago Amphitheater. Also playing was B.B. King and Albert King. After a rousing performance, he left the stage and collapsed, needing a team of paramedics to revive him. He died two months later. Rumour has it that Eric Clapton paid for his gravestone.
Wolf was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the 100 top singers of all time
Everyone needs to learn more about the Wolf. There’s a great biographical book called Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman which is available on Amazon.
One aspect I learned about the Wolf doing research for this blog was that he treated his band well. He paid them well, paid them on time and even offered them health insurance benefits. I just did an interview with Mike Mudfoot McDonald who talked about the early days in Toronto at the Colonial when Howlin Wolf would perform. Apparently, he was a keen poker player and would take on his band mates, winning back the money he paid them in salary. 😊
And if you get a chance, have a listen to Mike’s new cd, Play This.
If you want to see some of the most incredible blues footage, take a look at The Howlin' Wolf Story - The Secret History of Rock & Roll on you tube. The historical footage and concerts of the Wolf are simply mind blowing.