On the 15th January 1928, Howlin' Wolf's farther buys him a guitar, and inspired by bluesman Charlie Patton, he begins to learn how to play the blues. By his late teens he had begun travelling around that section of Mississippi, singing and playing guitar and harmonica for country functions and on the streets of small towns.
A few years on we find Chester doing farm work in Arkansas but continuing to play music. During the 1930's he would run across seasoned travellers of the blues world like Robert Johnson, and sometimes join them on the road.
Bluesman Johnny Shines first saw Wolf during this period, he was Johnny's idol, he liked his style but couldn't understand it. He hung around till he began to dig the guy and really came to see what he was doing but claimed to be afraid of Wolf.
Howlin' Wolf travels extensively in the South of 1935 with his brother-in-law Sonny Boy Williamson II, who teaches him how to play the harmonica, and Robert Junior Lockwood. They play a series of juke joints.
After military service in World War II Wolf returned to a farmer's life in Arkansas, but Wolf forms his first electric group in 1948 and becomes attached to radio station KWEM in West Memphis, not only as a musician but as a disc jockey and advertising salesman. The new band includes bluesmen such as Little Junior Parker, James Cotton, Matt Murphy, Pat Hare and Willie Johnson.
His reputation in the area brought Wolf to the notice of Sam Phillips in Memphis and at Sun Records in 1951, Wolf records 'Moanin' at Midnight' and 'How Many More Years', with Ike Turner on piano and Willie Johnson on guitar. Both songs become big hits on the rhythm 'n' blues charts.
Wolf was almost 41 when he first entered a recording studio. The artists who were getting on to records along-side him, like B.B. King and Bobby Bland, were anything from 15 to 20 or more years younger, and hadn't the same acquaintance with, or interest in, the blues of the 1920's and 1930's which echo so often in Wolf's work. One of his early Chess sides, 'Saddle My Pony', had been popularised two decades earlier by Charlie Patton, whom Wolf knew from his days living in Ruleville.
'It was Patton who started me off to playing,' Wolf remembered. 'He took a liking to me, and I asked him would he learn me, and at night, after I'd get off work, I'd go and hang around.' Wolf's deep, rasping vocal style instantly recalls the older man's, just as his howl - actually a jump from natural to falsetto voice - is modelled on a Mississippi contemporary of Patton, Tommy Johnson.
One difference between Wolf and Waters - and such differences would become important in the 1950's, as the two men vied for position in Chicago's clubs and at Chess Records - was that Wolf was more reluctant to cast off his southern blues background.
Phillips was bowled over by the Wolf. '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 (harmonica). The greatest show you could see would be Chester doing one of those sessions in the recording studio. The fervor in his face when he sang, his eyes would light up and you'd see the veins on his neck, and there was nothing on his mind but that song, he sang with his soul'.
Wolf's Memphis recordings of 1951 - 1952 generally featured his regular bandsmen Willie Johnson (guitar), Albert Williams (piano) and Willie Steel (drums). On sessions supervised by Ike Turner the producer himself would usually take over the piano stool. The up-tempo records have tremendous vitality; Wolf's harmonica rips into the music like a rough-edged saw, while Johnson's guitar positively sizzles.
In 1953 Wolf settles in Chicago and in 1956 he records 'Smokestack Lightnin''. Then the following year he records 'Sittin' on Top of the World', with Hubert Sumlin on guitar, Hosea Lee Kennard on piano, Alfred Elkins on bass and Earl Phillips on drums.
Wolf records two of his greatest successes in 1960, 'Wang Dang Doodle' and 'Black Door Man' and the in 1961 he records 'The Red Rooster' ( later to be covered by the Rolling Stones ) and 'I Ain't Superstitious'.
In 1964 Wolf travels to Europe for the American Folk Blues Festival.
Together with Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley, Wolf records the fine album The Super Super Blues Band in 1967.
Then in 1970 in London Wolf teams up with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts to record The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions.
Wolf plays several concerts in Chicago in 1972, recorded by Chess for the live album, Live and Cookin' at Alice's Revisited and in 1973 he releases his final album, The Back Door Wolf'.
Howlin' Wolf dies of cancer at the Veteran Administration Hospital, Illinois, on 10th January 1976.
In 1991 Howlin' Wolf is postumously elected to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in New York.
The Howlin' Wolf tracks I have in my CD collection :-
Back Door Man - 2'48" (by Willie Dixon)
Bluebird - 2'47" (by Tommy McClellan)
Built for Comfort - 2'04" (by Willie Dixon)
California Blues - 2'56" (by Chester Burnett)
California Boogie - 2'58" (by Chester Burnett)
Champagne Velvet Blues - 3'04" (by Chester Burnett)
Chocolate Drop - 2'40" (by Chester Burnett)
Crying At Daybreak - 3'52" (by King/Ling)
Do the Do - 2'15" (by Willie Dixon)
Everybody's in the Mood - 2'58" (by Chester Burnett)
Getting Old and Gray - 2'48" (by Chester Burnett)
Highway 49 - 2'43" (by Big Joe Williams)
Highway Man - 2'26" (by Chester Burnett)
How Many More Years - 2'43" (by Chester Burnett)
Howlin' for My Baby - 2'33" (by Chester Burnett)
Howlin' Wolf Boogie -2'47" (by Chester Burnett)
I Ain't Superstitous - 3'20" (by Willie Dixon)
Killing Floor - 2'49" (by Chester Burnett)
Little Red Rooster (rehearsal) - 1'57" (by Willie Dixon)
Little Red Rooster - 3'50" (by Willie Dixon)
Look-A-Here Baby - 2'09" (by Chester Burnett)
Moanin' at Midnight - 2'57" (by Chester Burnett)
Mr Highway Man - 2'57" (by Chester Burnett)
My Baby Ealked Off - 2'58" (by Chester Burnett)
My Troubles and Me - 3'14" (by Chester Burnett)
Poor Boy - 2'57" (by Burnett)
Riding In The Moonlight - 3'05" (by Chester Burnett/Taub)
Rockin' Daddy - 3'38" (by Chester Burnett)
Saddle My Pony - 2'31" (by Chester Burnett)
Sittin' On Top of the World - 3'44" (by Chester Burnett)
Smile At Me - 2'06" (by Chester Burnett)
SmokeStack Lightnin' - 3'05" (by Chester Burnett)
The Wolf Is At Your Door (Howlin' For My Baby) - 2'57" (by Chester Burnett)
Wang-Dang-Doodle - 4'22" (by Willie Dixon)
What A Woman! - 2'52" (by James Oden)
Who's Been Talking - 2'59" (by Chester Burnett)
Worried About My Baby - 2'55" (by James Oden)