The word "legend" is sometimes used liberally in the Blues community, but
anyone who is even a casual Blues fan knows that when the name Howlin` Wolf
is mentioned, we are speaking of a true legend. Chester Arthur Burnett, aka
Howlin Wolf, is not just a legendary figure, but is among the most
influential Blues artists in history. His unique style of music and his
gravelly voice that cresented into a howling falsetto is instantly
recognizable, often imitated and never duplcated. His commanding stage
presence defined the term. His towering figure, mamoth hands and size 16
feet earned him various nicknames early in his career such as "Bull Cow" and
Chester Burnett was born to Leon “Dock” Burnett and Gertrude Jones on June
10, 1910, in White Station, Mississippi, a tiny railroad stop between
Aberdeen and West Point in the Mississippi hill country, many miles away
from the Delta. Chester`s childhood was hard, at best. When his parents
seperated, his father moved to the Delta, and his mother, who is said to
have suffered from mental illness, left him in the care of his great-uncle,
Will Young, a stern and unforgiving preacher, described by one of Chester`s
childhood friends as "the meanest man between here and hell".
At age 13, Burnett left to live with his father in the Delta. He lived with
his father`s new family on the Young and Morrow plantation near Ruleville.
There, Chester became fascinated by local blues musicians, especially the
Delta’s first great blues star, Charley Patton, who lived on the nearby
Dockery Plantation. At age 18, Burnett recieved a guitar as a gift from his
father and he approached Patton to teach him how to play. The "Father of The
Delta Blues" took a liking to young Chester and taught him the rudiments of
the Delta Blues style. Patton`s influence on Burnett was immense and
remained with him his whole life. Wolf`s vocals and knack for showmanship
came directly from Patton. The pair must have been a sight to behold. Patton
was over twice Burnett`s age and was a diminutive man of Native American,
African (and possibly white) descent, while Burnett was already a toweringly
large young man.
Wolf began playing fish fries and parties and was taught the basics of the
Blues harmonica by Rice Miller, later known as Sonny Boy Williamson (2), who
was dating Wolf`s half-sister.Wolf was also tremendously influenced by the
records of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Tommy Johnson
and Jimmie "The Singing Brakeman" Rodgers. Rodgers is called the "Father of
Country Music", but was heavily influenced by Blues and was really actually
the first white Blues singer. (Although Rodgers would probably have bristled
at that moniker.) Wolf says he got his falsetto"howl" from Rodgers` yodel.
early in his career, Wolf often travelled the Delta with Sonny Boy 2 and
Robert Johnson, as well as Johnny Shines.
Wolf was drafted in 1941. He was discharged in 1943 after suffering a
nervous breakdown. He moved briefly to Lebenon, TN, and returned to the
Delta in 1945, playing music and helping out on his father`sfarm in the
spring and the fall. Burnett often played with Son House and Willie Brown
during this period. In 1948, Wolf moved to West memphis, AR, where he formed
his first band. His bandmates included harmonica players James Cotton and
Junior Parker, guitarists Pat Hare, Matt "Guitar" Murphy and Wllie Johnson.
He also landed a job as a DJ on radio station KWEM, playing Blues and
selling farm equipment.Although "Wolf" was a nickname his grandfather gave
him, and he had used it during his early career, it was here that he started
using the name "The Howlin` Wolf".
Click here to view the attachment