November 1964 American Folk Blues tour concert featured musicians Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Willie Dixon and Clifton James
NEW YORK, N.Y. — In the pantheon of blues, Howlin’ Wolf was in a category of his own. At 6’3” and 275 pounds, he had a voice that resonated with menace — not every bluesman could make a song like “I Asked Her for Water (She Brought Me Gasoline)” convincing. The Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee made several classic recordings for the Sun, RPM, Crown and Chess labels in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The soon-to- be-released Rockin’ the Blues: Live in Germany 1964, due out in the U.S. on November 11 on the Acrobat Music label, captures the Wolf in his prime, when he was surrounded by a dream team of Chicago blues all-stars: long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin; songwriter/producer Willie Dixon on bass; Sunnyland Slim, piano; and Clifton James, drums.
Howlin’ Wolf was renowned for his ability to rock the house down, and this November 6, 1964 Bremen, Germany concert recording confirms that with a mixture of self-penned songs, Willie Dixon compositions and covers: “Shake It for Me,” “Love Me,” “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt Your Feelings,” “Rockin’ the Blues,” “All My Life,” “Howlin’ for My Darling,” “Forty Four, ” St. Louis Jimmy’s “Going Down Slow” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom.”
Howlin’ Wolf, born in West Point, Miss., and named Chester Arthur Burnett after the 21st president of the U.S., followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a farmer, but a chance meeting with Delta blues patriarch Charley Patton changed this. Wolf’s inimitable voice and entertaining prowess were inspired by Patton, and his rhythmic style on harmonica was influenced by Rice (Sonny Boy Williamson) Miller. Sam Phillips of Sun Records was the first to record Howlin’ Wolf and leased the tracks to the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, who released them on RPM and Crown, and to the Chess brothers in Chicago, where he achieved stardom. Despite hits on the R&B charts, it was not until Wolf combined with Chess staff writer Willie Dixon (featured on this live recording) that record sales began to blossom.
The Rolling Stones reached No. 1 with their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster,” and they showed additional respect when they insisted he appear on the music TV show “Shindig,” where he proceeded to mystify and possibly frighten a generation of American teenagers. Interest in his music spread throughout Europe, and in October/November, 1964, Wolf joined fellow artists Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sugar Pie DeSanto on the third American Folk Blues Festival tour. It was there that he made the recordings that constitute Acrobat Music’s Rockin’ The Blues: Live in Germany, 1964.
As guitarist Sumlin, the lone survivor from these sessions, recalls of his European reception, “The people, they knew Wolf. I think that this guy put his heart out over there, I know he did.”
Howlin’ Wolf’s renown in the rock community grew in the later ‘60s and early ‘70s. But as the ‘70s progressed, Wolf became increasingly ill. He died in Chicago on January 10, 1976. A life-size statute was erected in Chicago and a child education center in Chicago was named in his honor. His face even appeared on a U.S. postage stamp.
The audience in Bremen, Germany got to see some of that Howlin’ Wolf power up close. Forty-four years later, he performance will be made available to American music consumers on November 11th. One thing’s for sure: They don’t make ‘em like Howlin’ Wolf no more.
Acrobat is a UK-based record label specializing in collectors’ and reissue CDs across just about every genre of music. In 2007, Acrobat Music Group purchased the Kruger Organisation catalog, a library of more than 22,000 original tracks by Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, among scores of others. Launching its U.S. label out of New York this October 21, Acrobat will establish its presence as a premier independent reissue label in the U.S. through its distribution with TVT Distribution.
The U.S. label debut features 15 reissues that offer high quality, historical significance and excellent value. The first set of releases includes jazz/big band, blues, country, R&B, doo- wop and rock. All the Premier Collection titles are showcased in “deluxe packaging,” with o-cards, extensive liner notes and either a large number of tracks or lengthy play time.