Howlin' Wolf a.k.a. Chester Arthur Burnett (1910 -1976) was an influential blues singer, harmonica and guitar player. Born in Mississippi, he farmed and learned guitar and harmonica from other musicians in the area. After he served in the Army during the Second World War, he became a local celebrity in the south, playing with various other blues men. He was finally signed to a recording contract by Chess Records in 1951 and moved to Chicago, IL.
One of his biggest hits in the 1950's was Smokestack Lightnin', here being sung by the Wolf while on a blues tour of Britian in 1964:
At Chess Records, Willie Dixon wrote songs for Wolf that turned out to be some of his most popular. "Back Door Man" was one of these songs:
Wolf continued touring and recording throughout the 1950's and 1960's with his own band and his long-time lead guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Here they are with Sunnyland Slim in a video taken from the American Folk Blues tour of 1964 with Wolf singing the song "Shake For Me":
In the late 1960's and early 1970's Wolf's health declined. He had several heart attacks and his kidneys were badly damaged in an auto accident in 1970. He succumbed to kidney failure in 1976.
In his prime Howlin' Wolf was a huge man, 6' 6", over 300 hundred pounds and his voice was just as big. Sam Phillips was the first to sign Wolf to a contract and he commented, "When I heard him, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies'. He was about six foot six, with the biggest feet I've ever seen on a human being. Big Foot Chester is one name they used to call him. He would sit there with those feet planted wide apart, playing nothing but the French harp, and I tell you, the greatest show you could see today would be Chester Burnett doing one of those sessions in my studio. God, what would it be worth to see the fervor in that man's face when he sang. His eyes would light up and you'd see the veins on his neck, and buddy, there was nothing on his mind but that song. He sang with his damn soul."
Howlin' Wolf singing and Hubert Sumlin on lead guitar Moving from one of his last albums in the 1970's: