Saturday, July 10, 2010
That's the Blues Right There
But Howlin' Wolf has hit hardest, for sure.
Part of it is my pwrsonal history-- that "Best of the Biggest" record I bought as a kid with "Ridin' in the Moonlight."
Part of it is inherent interest. He was an interesting man. I saw the book "Moanin' at Midnight," and had to buy it. And as I read it I respected him more and more.
Part of it is finding the deeper roots of so much that I had loved. I was a kid when I found Taj Mahal, and a kid when I found two tracks by Howlin' Wolf-- but I was full grown and fading before I put two and two together to realize how closely they had always been linked.
Tonight I watched the first half of the documentary "The Howlin' Wolf Story." I've seen snatches before. I'd never watched it straight through. (I guess I still haven't.) It's a GREAT movie, with full songs by a great artist.
By great artists.
I've said before that what happened in Clarksdale and its suburb, Chicago, was like what happened in Florence, Italy, 500 years before: an explosion of incredible art and culture. There are home movies by drummer Sam Lay showing Wolf and Sumlin and Sonny Boy II and Otis Spann at Silvio's having a good time. It is like dreamtime-- impossible to believe and incredible to envision.
But the saddest thing-- the most powerful thing--- was Howlin' Wolf telling off Son House.
If you've read the biography of Muddy Waters you'll remember a page where one of Muddy's musicians asks "who's that old man?" And Muddy scolds him. "That's Son House."
I just saw parts of "It Might Get Loud." The White Stripes guitarist holds a Son House record (the only one I own) and talks about how it hit him when he heard it, and how he has been trying to acheive that sound throughout his career.
Howlin' Wolf travelled with Son House in the 1930s, revered him, and considered him a teacher.
But while Wolf played, back in 1964, House, drunk, grabbed his arm and started babbling. And that's when Wolf scolded him. "You had a chance with your life but you ain't done nothin' with it." He tells him "We ain't talkin' about the womens, we talkin' about the life of a human being. See you don't love but one thing, and that's some whiskey, and that's plumb out of it." House keeps babbling, trying to respond, but Wolf starts playing, and his band joins him, and the babbling is lost.
I's an incredibly powerful moment. It answer's B.B.'s question. It's how blue you can get.
(This is an unedited version)