Listen/Download – Howlin’ Wolf – Pop It To Me – MP3
I hope the middle of the week finds you all well.
The Funky16Corners fam and I are in Washington, DC trying to cram in a little west and wewaxation before the summer comes to a screeching halt. I was at the Smithsonian today and saw (in the same room) one of Grandmaster Flash’s turntables and a Cheech and Chong album. Very cool (and unexpected).
The record I bring you today is by no means an original discovery, as I was tipped off to its existence by Mack over at Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. So intrigued was I by the very concept of today’s selection, that I bought a copy sight unheard.
When the record finally made it’s way to the crib, and I had a chance to give it a spin I knew that my investment was a wise one.
Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf was one of the greats of the Chicago blues scene in the 50s and 60s. Coming up from the Delta to Chitown, where he was signed by the Chess brothers, Wolf laid down some of the most intense music (let alone blues) to have ever been committed to vinyl, including classics like ‘Back Door Man’, ‘How Many More Years’ and ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Howlin’ Wolf was as close to a true elemental spirit as popular music has ever produced. If you’re not already down, might I suggest that you head down to your local music dispensary and pick up the single disc “Best of” on Chess, set aside a week or two, put it in the player and get your mind good and blown. If you’re not really a blues “fan” – and it’s important to note that serious exposure to the real stuff, like Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter et al will reveal how disappointing much modern “blues” is – you should still get your hands on some Wolf, because it is music so powerful as to transcend genre. Aside from the fact that his basic catalog is influential in an almost unparalleled way (listen to the ‘Best of’ and see the history of 60s rock unfold before your very eyes), Howlin’ Wolf was, among the big Chicago bluesmen (most of who came from elsewhere) the one who brought into the modern era the power of the Delta. Ingest some Wolf and then go get yourself some Charley Patton and Blind Willie Johnson and dig the similarities.
That said, today’s selection can’t really compare to the power of Wolf’s best stuff, but in the context of the whole Funky16Corners thang, it may very well provide an open door for some of you to step through and get a handle on the heavier stuff.
By the mid-60s Wolf was still at it, but the heyday of the electric bluesmen was long since past and Chicago had become one of the major centers of soul recording in the US. Someone at Chess decided to steer the Wolf in a new direction and decided to have him cover Syl Johnson’s (another southern bluesman turned Chicago soul shouter, though a generation younger) ‘Come On Sock It To Me’. Written by Johnson, Jo Armstead and Jesse Anderson, ‘Come On Sock It To Me’ was covered (though employing the same basic track) as an organ instrumental by the Deacons on the Shama label.
The Howlin’ Wolf version does not – as far as I can discern – re-use Johnson’s instrumental track*. Wolf’s version moves at a slightly faster pace, and the guitar and organ lines are different from the original. While no one is going to mistake Howling Wolf for a soul man, he makes a pretty interesting go of it on the retitled ‘Pop It To Me’, and it’s worth it just to hear him take the word ‘boogaloo’ and whip it through his 57 year old sinuses. It is a thing of beauty, as are his repeated ‘wooooooo’s.
‘Pop It To Me’ isn’t going to re-write the history of Howlin’ Wolf, but it’s cool to hear nonetheless.
See you on Friday.
*The Johnson OG was arranged by Johnny Cameron, the Wolf arrangement is credited to Monk Higgins
PS The Asbury Park 45 Sessions returns this Friday 8/14 with the usual crew of heavy hitters, this time out joined by special guest Pat James Longo. If you’re in the area fall by and dig the sounds.