'Look what you get' indeed. Don't let that big smiling face fool you. Standing at six foot three inches and with a neck as big as a tree trunk – Chester Burnett could scare the crap out of Beelzebub and out-sing his nastier brother too. But Howlin' Wolf was not just a musical force of nature (the real deal as Sam Phillips said when he first heard his famous vocal growl) – he was a mischievous and often very funny Blues Man. And never is that more evident than on this fabulous twofer that brings together two rare albums in the "Real Folk Blues" series Chess Records put out in the Sixties (1966 and 1967 to be exact). Both are studio sets and contain classics like "Killing Floor" (covered by Zeppelin on "II") and the 'look what you get' song "Built For Comfort". Here are the three hundred pounds of heavenly joy...
US released March 2002 (April 2002 in the UK) – "The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues" by HOWLIN’ WOLF on Universal/MCA/Chess 088 122 820-2 (Barcode 008811282028) is part of Universal's "Blues Classics: Remastered & Revisited" CD Series and pans out as follows (66:43 minutes):
1. Killing Floor
3. Poor Boy
4. Sittin' On Top Of The World
6. My Country Sugar Mama
7. Tail Dragger [ Side 2]
8. Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy
9. The Natchez Burnin'
10. Build For Comfort
11. Ooh Baby Hold Me
12. Tell Me What I've Done
Tracks 1 to 12 are the LP "The Real Folk Blues" – released January 1966 in the USA on Chess LP 1502. Tracks 1, 2 and 6 were recorded August 1964 – Track 7 September 1962 – Tracks 8 and 10 are August 1963 – Tracks 11 and 12 are from August 1965 while the remainder are various Fifties recordings.
13. Just My Kind
14. I've Got A Woman
15. Work For Your Money
16. I'll Be Around
17. You Can't Be Beat
18. No Place To Go (You Gonna Wreck My Life)
19. I Love My Baby
21. I'm The Wolf
22. Rockin' Daddy
23. Who Will Be Next
24. I Have A Little Girl
Tracks 13 to 24 are the album "More Real Folk Blues" – released January 1967 in the USA on Chess LP 1512
The 12-page booklet features a short essay of The Wolf by the noted Blues Historian Mary Katherine Aldin who did Hip-O Select’s annotation for their magnificent Volume 2 of Muddy Waters' complete Chess recordings "Hoochie Coochie Man..." in 2004. Pages 6, 7 and 8 reproduced the original liner notes to both LPs from Willie Dixon and Paul Williams (of Crawdaddy Magazine) respectively while the rest is taken up with reissue credits. Good names like ANDY McKAIE and BETH STEMPEL have coordinated the series – but the big news is new Remastering by ERICK LABSON at Universal. His credits list runs like a who’s who of Chess artists (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, The Dells, Rotary Connection) as well as many prestigious Rock catalogues (Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Mamas and Papas, Neil Diamond, Wishbone Ash and The Who) to name but a few. The Audio on the first album which is mainly in Stereo rocks throughout - but the second LP which features 1953 to 1956 Mono material is only as good as the recordings were – lively and full of rough Blues - but not the sonic blast the first record is. Considering what he had to work with – the Audio overall is great – full of presence.
As you can see from the details beneath the track listing – "The Real Folk Blues” album is made up of tracks from 1963, 1964 and 1965 with a smattering of older Fifties cuts (almost all were American Chess 45s) and it opens with a double from an August 1964 session. "Killing Floor" is a Blues tune probably more famous to Rock fans through Led Zeppelin who naughtily tried to rename it "The Lemon Song" on certain copies of "Zeppelin II" in 1969 (other copies correctly credit it as "Killing Floor" by Chester Burnett). In some ways they were both at it. It's arguable that Wolf's version is a radical update of "Hard Times Killing Floor" by Skip James that dates back to the Thirties. In 1969 Jimmy Page and Robert Plant over in England then take Wolf's re-working and do exactly the same – reshape it into yet another beast called "The Lemon Song". Either way what you do hear in Wolf's opening salvo is the fantastic band. Both Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy are on the Guitars, Lafayette Leak plays Piano, Arnold Rogers and Donald Hankins play the Saxophones with Andrew McMahon on Bass and Sam Lay on Drums. "Louise" has wicked guitar work too and a fantastic vocal and Wolf lyrics like "...Louise you’d better come home...somebody's been fishing in your pond...baby since you've been gone..."
"Poor Boy" is an oldie from 1957 where you get to hear the Wolf’s underrated Harmonica playing while his cover of "Sittin' On Top Of The World" from the same session gives The Mississippi Sheiks Okeh 78" a run for its 1930 money. The jaunty CB original "Nature" again opens with his shockingly good Harp playing and from there we're back to a 1964 winner "My Country Sugar Mama" (often shortened by future copyists to just "Sugar Mama"). The fab "Sugar Mama" is one of those gem B-sides (Chess 1911 in 1964 with “Love Me Darlin’” was on the A) that once again offers his sneaky Bluesy brilliance - the kind of 'look-out-ladies' hoochie-coochie Blues he was so effortlessly good at. The moaning guitar of "Tail Dragger" was put out as a 45 on Chess 1890 in 1964 (with "Hidden Charms" on its flipside) and features prominent axework from another Chess Records hero Hubert Sumlin. With Johnny Jones on the Piano and J.T. Brown on Tenor Sax, “Ooh Baby, Hold Me” has fantastic Audio - every instrument in your face - and for all the right reasons.
His funniest tune "300 Pounds Of Joy" was issued as a masterpiece double-sided 45 by Chess in 1963 with the equally brill "Built For Comfort" on the flipside (Chess 1870). Both were wickedly hip at the time and remain so to this day – so much so that one or both will surely be flogging some luxury car in the next five years - as it comes sailing out of some wind-tunnel in a slick as snake oil TV advert. Dark and dangerous describes "The Natchez Burnin'" which comes at you with a hurt meanness. But my real crave is the album finisher - the properly Bluesy "Tell Me What I've Done" with Buddy Guy's accomplished guitar playing enriching everything – a fabulous A-side to Chess 1928 in late 1965.
You would have to say that the follow-up album released exactly one year after the first is not nearly as good – but still has moments that warrant purchase. It features old material recorded between 1953 and 1956 with Otis Spann at the Piano and a combo of Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams and Lee Cooper on the guitars (Willie Dixon on Bass). The whole album is rough and grungy with his huge set of pipes almost distorting the tapes. And once again with tracks like "I'll Be Around" you hear his wicked Harp playing while the keyboard prowess of Otis Spann puts a boogie into "Neighbors". Axeman Lee Cooper gives "I'm The Wolf" and "Neighbors" some chugging riffs and shuffling guitar respectively (what a band they must have been live). "Rockin' Daddy" is barroom boogie too as he growls "...I can rock you all night long..." and means it. The LP ends on the salacious "I Have A Little Girl" where his latest lady love is 18-years old - but you can't help thinking that she isn't as innocent now as she was when she left momma's house...
Born in the Mississippi Delta in June 1910 and finally lost to us too soon in January 1976 – I can only tremble at the thought of Howlin' Wolf in the live environment – wailing like a cross between an alligator and a mad dog – whooping it up as the band tears into "Built For Comfort" (and 'not for speed') - literally climbing the onstage curtains at one infamous gig and driving the audience wild. Wow!
"...I got everything that a good girl need..." he sang. I don’t doubt that for a nanosecond Mister Burnett...be with the angels...
PS: Titles in the Universal US-Only "Blues Classics - Remastered & Revisited" CD Series are:
(1 and 2 are SUHA GUR remasters, 3 to 11 are ERICK LABSON remasters and I've reviewed most)
1. Bad News Is Coming - LUTHER ALLISON
(1972 Gordy LP, 2001 CD Remaster + Four Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks) - Universal 440 013 407-2 (Barcode 044001340727)
2. Luther’s Blues - LUTHER ALLISON
(1974 USA 9-track LP with 3 Previously Unreleased bonuses, 70:28 minutes)
Universal 440 013 409-2 (Barcode 044001340925)
3. Two Steps From The Blues - BOBBY BLAND
(1961 USA 12-track LP on Duke with 2 bonuses, 35:12 minutes)
MCA 088 112 516-2 (Barcode 008811251628)
4. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - JOHN LEE HOOKER
(October 1966 and September 1991 LPs on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 79:44 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 821-2 (Barcode 008811282127)
5. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - HOWLIN' WOLF
(January 1966 on Chess and January 1967 on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 66:45 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 820-2 (Barcode 008811282028)
6. Tell Mama: The Complete Muscle Shoals Sessions - ETTA JAMES
(January 1968 US 12-Track LP on Cadet - 13-22 being bonuses, 57:11 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 518-2 (Barcode 008811251826)
7. Live At San Quentin - B.B. KING
(1990 13-Track Compilation on MCA, no extras, 64:09 minutes)
MCA America 088 112 517-2 (Barcode 008811251727)
8. At Newport 1960 - MUDDY WATERS
(1960 US 9-Track LP on Chess with 10-13 being 4 Mono Studio Tracks from June 1960 as bonus tracks, 44:41 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 515-2 (Barcode 008811251529)
9. Fathers & Sons - MUDDY WATERS (with Paul Butterfield, Otis Spann, Mike Bloomfield, Donald 'Duck' Dunn and Buddy Miles)
(Tracks 1-10 and 15-20 is the August 1969 2LP set on Chess in Full with Tracks 11, 12, 13 being previously unreleased - and 14 previously unreleased in the USA). (77:38 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 648-2 (Barcode 008811264826)
10. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - MUDDY WATERS
MCA/Chess 088 112 822-2 (Barcode 008811282226)
11. The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON
(January 1966 and January 1967 LPs on Chess, 2LPs on 1CD, 65:28 minutes)
MCA/Chess 088 112 823-2 (Barcode 008811282325)