WOLF STORY (Bluebird Jazz)
DVD directed by Don McGlynn
Had me on the edge of my seat for the full 90 minutes. Unbelievable!
Attention any and all fans of the blues, because this is what you're looking
opens up with Wolf's only national TV appearance, on the music show Shindig
(!) in 1965. The Rolling Stones were featured, and insisted that Howlin
Wolf appear on the same show. Wolf is absolutely electric in the midst
of all these white teenagers clapping their hands and chewing gum on the
stairs of the show's set, and the way he's shaking his finger at the camera
and then shakin the hell out of his booty is like nothing I've ever seen
a man do, much less the huge man that Chester Burnett was. The Shindig
clip alone is priceless, more than worth the price of admission, but it's
just the beginning.
Then Son House comes on, clapping his hands and singing an a capella version
of "John the Revelator," somebody help me.
Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist whom he treated like
a son, said of his mentor: "If you say something to him, you better
be right, and you better say it right to him, you know what I'm talking
about? He might just walk off, and say, 'Hey man, it was nice knowing
ya...'" to which Hubert's longtime wife, Evelyn Sumlin Goodwin, added:
"He just didn't take any mess."
Wolf's fierce mastery of the stage is a thing of legend, but people very
close to him talk about his persona offstage as being laid back, more
straight laced. He was a consummate showman who was very conscious of
people putting down their hard earned money to see the show, and he would
undergo a radical transformation, becoming a wide-eyed beast stalking
the stage and getting up on the bar come showtime.
Details of the bluesman's difficult childhood and reunion with his father
come to light, and how he learns his first guitar from the delta legend
Charley Patton, and he recounts the day his dad bought him his first guitar,
fifteenth of January 1928. There is some narration by his biographer or
by Marshall Chess, but much of the story is told by the Wolf himself,
which is mesmerizing. And so much of the story is unique in the blues,
what a smart businessman he was (getting the sponsors himself for his
early radio shows, for instance), how well he treated the band, and how
he was "the onliest one to drive his own car out of the Delta to
Chicago with four thousand dollars in his pocket," quite a fortune
at the time.
The rivalry with Muddy Waters, the first records Wolf cut with Sam Phillips
(the Memphis genius who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and many
others and called Howlin' Wolf his greatest discovery!), his devotion
to his lifelong wife, there is just so much good material and tons of
good live footage. Director Don McGlynn has brought us a document of inestimable
value, and kudos to The Bluebird company for launching their video series
with "The Authorized Life and Times of Chester Burnett--the Howlin'
Wolf." Check out bluebirdjazz.com
for info on the CD series "When the Sun Goes Down--The Secret History
of Rock & Roll."
This outrageous DVD retails for twenty bucks, and it was on sale at the
Nashville Tower Records. It was the best fifteen bucks I spent in years.
Get it. FG
to covers howlin'