Howlin' Wolf

The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions – HOWLIN’ WOLF – 1971


This record was suggested to me by a friend who swore me to

quote

“start with wang dang

then red rooster

then

smoke stack lightenin.”

Unquote.

My first impression was one of disappointment as it is a lot more ‘arranged’ than I expected. I had hoped and wanted guy with guitar singing his balls out. Instead I got electric bass/guitar (eergh), drums, a horn section, piano and harmonica and what not.

No matter. My approach to this album was to listen to it as a Howlin’ Wolf album and without any extraneous Eric Clapton-ism or Bill Wyman-ism. Just a guy with a guitar. And for me, that’s the only way this album delivers. And delivers big. I know he was an electric blues pioneer, but am I the only one who thinks he would have been much more powerful with minimal accompaniment, and not a full band?

Anyway, I have always wondered what Lemmy Kilmister might have taken his inspiration from. I now know. Wolf is raw, in your face and with an extremely smoky and heavy voice. I haven’t bothered to check out his Wiki page, but I’m pretty sure he smoked like a private on sentry duty. And somehow, I can picture him gesticulating with his head, like a proto-Stevie Wonder, cigarette-in-hand, bottle of cheap booze close by and thoughts of sex never too far away, while in the studio recording this. In sepia. Innit?

Am I the only one who thinks he would have been much more powerful with minimal accompaniment?

“Rockin’ Daddy”, which quickly leaves us in no doubt about the general tone of the lyrics, is one of the cuts in which he delivers big. That said, I do prefer the slower songs, with a heavier bassy stomp, to match his lower pitched growl. “Sitting at the Top of the World” works amazingly for me. Another slowish track which I’m particularly fond of is “Built for Comfort”, where he seems to get defensively playful about the fact that he is….well…fat. ‘I’m built for comfort; I ain’t built for speed’. It also seems to be a shorter song than the rest, and that works well for me by cutting through the repetitive structure of the blues. I personally find the three chord vamps and insistent structure a little tedious.

My favourite tracks have to be “Who’s been Talkin’”, with its head-bobbing triplet rhythms with Wolf’s I’ve-been-inhaling-coal-dust-since-I-was-three voice. It works beautifully. My other favourite track is the subtly named “Wang Dang Doodle”, with its insistent guitar riff, and what’s this? Multi tracked vocals? Falsetto? I likes.

Just a note while signing off. I looked into some of Howlin’ Wolf’s classic tracks without the all star white-boy backing cast of Clapton with Wyman and Watts from the Rolling Stones. My opinion, listen to Wolf on his solo ultra low-fi recordings. He shines most without all the (then) new fangled production techniques. Why? Because then the whole band sounds like its gargling glass while playing.  And I like that.

So here is my verdict. This is a good album because of Wolf’s voice and because the backing musicians are highly competent. For me though, I’d rather just have Howlin’ Wolf’s voice. This sounds right.

– El Bajista

More BLUES/BLUES ROCK reviews HERE.

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One thought on “The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions – HOWLIN’ WOLF – 1971

  1. “The London Howlin Wolf Sessions – HOWLIN WOLF – 1971 | thatdoesntsoundright” <T I S in fact got myself simply hooked on ur webpage! I actuallywill be returning even more regularly. With thanks ,Velva

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