Name at birth: Chester Arthur Burnett
Howlin' Wolf was the stage name of Chester Burnett, one of the most popular and influential blues artists in history, known for songs such as "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "Wang Dang Doodle." He grew up in rural Mississippi and was a farmer until he was nearly 40 years old. After years of playing music (guitar and harmonica) on the weekends in local clubs, Howlin' Wolf turned pro in 1948. He started a band in West Memphis, Arkansas and worked in radio until Ike Turner introduced him to Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Howlin' Wolf recorded for the first time in 1951 and had a hit with "How Many More Years." A year or so later, he wound up in Chicago, recording for Chess. There he competed with Muddy Waters to record Willie Dixon songs, and became famous for his wild performances. A big man with a raspy voice, Howlin' Wolf's raw emotion more than made up for his lack of musicianship, and he came to typify the "Mississipi Blues meets Chicago" sound that influenced British rock bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. He recorded many versions of many blues standards, including "The Red Rooster," "Spoonful" and "Back Door Man." His 1971 album, The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, featured songs from a recording session with Eric Clapton (of Cream), Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (of The Rolling Stones) and Steve Winwood (of Blind Faith) and Ringo Starr (of The Beatles).
The bluesman who did “Smokestack Lightnin’”