Lost Classics! “The Back Door Wolf”

Howlin' Wolf - Front

Blues great Howlin’ Wolf revealed himself to be a somewhat bitter and angry fellow with The Back Door Wolf, released on Chess Records in 1973.  The Wolf, real name Chester Burnett, was incredibly popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s – his 1962 album Howlin’ Wolf (the “rocking chair” album, because there’s a rocking chair on the cover), with classics-to-be “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Little Red Rooster” and “Spoonful,” was his biggest hit and one of the greatest albums ever made.

But by the late 1960s-early 1970s Howlin’ Wolf wasn’t as popular and the big shots at Chess kept trying to find ways to keep their artists current (and selling records).  The Back Door Wolf as a result features some “topical” songs of the day written by the Wolf his own bad self.  “Coon On The Moon” speaks to the prejudice still evident in the time and with the lyrics “You gonna wake up one morning/And a coon is gonna be President” he sarcastically predicted the election of the nation’s first black President 35 years later.

Later in “The Watergate Blues,” Wolf celebrates the black security guard who found a little piece of tape on a door and started into motion a series of events that brought down that era’s president.  The lyrics of these topical songs are rooted in a particular time but they’re still listenable today for their passion and fury. 

Wolf is supported by the great Hubert Sumlin on guitar, but Detroit Junior’s use of the harpsichord on some of the songs is a little odd.  And Wolf himself plays a mean harmonica.  The Back Door Wolf turned out to be Howlin’ Wolf’s final studio album; he died in 1976. 

MP3: “Coon On The Moon”

MP3: “The Back Door Wolf”

MP3: “Moving”

MP3: “The Watergate Blues”

Howlin’ Wolf Home Page

5 Responses to “Lost Classics! “The Back Door Wolf””

  1. Nice write up. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for this one…

  2. On August 2, 1969, at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, in an interview with Michael Erlewine, Howlin’ Wolf, referring to his new song
    “Coon on the Moon”:

    “Some of them said years ago, ‘We will never make it to the moon.’ I said: ‘You never know.’ Today, we settin’ on the moon & got a flag up there. You understand? But they told me that we couldn’t do that. Don’t never say what we can’t do.

    “Next thing, I’m looking for a man walkin’ down the street with no head on his body. And if they say they can’t do it, I’m gonna tell ‘em,
    ‘You’re wrong. He gonna come down sooner or later.’

    “That’s right. He will have no head & be all heart, just one big heart.

    Thousands of hippies, hipped up children, with great big heads & tiny hearts, trying to lose that big head & get that big heart. The big head
    & the hard heart of rock & roll & psychedelic music has gone as far
    as it will go. The heart just has to be developed.

    “I’m not a smart man. You see, I got a little head & a big heart. That’s all I need. You take people – when they got a big head, they don’t make it far. I’m not a smart man. You see, I got a little head & a big heart.

    * * * * *

    Michael Goldfarb reported this anecdote in a BBC Arts and Ideas radio commentary:

    Howlin’ Wolf took the stage on Saturday night [August 2] in the headline slot [actually, he appeared just before closer Muddy Waters--ed]. The weather was fine and warm. The moon, amplified by the humid thick Midwestern summer air, hovered over the great lawn where the crowd sat.

    In the middle of an instrumental, Wolf started a riff. Pointing up at the big, bright light, he claimed “I believe in the future! I’ve got a MAN on the MOON! I’ve lived to see it…a MAN on the moon.”

    Then he started his trademark howl….now the Wolf was, for real, howling at the moon.

    * * *

  3. WordPress Really Does ROCK!!

    This is a wonderful article and fine BLOG. You and I have common interests in great music and more. Check out my latest article entitled: Barack Obama Must Learn to SIng the BLues

    http://hiphappy.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/barack-blues/

    You can learn how to write a blues song and get more background on the blues. I tend to “write dissertations” given my PhD in sociology. I am going to record my own versions of “Coon on the Moon” and “watergate Blues” once I transcribe the lyrics.

    You will also like my BLOGs about two lost souls who linked the blues with rock and roll (Brian Jones and Pigpen). Neither got the recognition or respect during their lives or since.

    Pigpen was the Heart and Soul of the Grateful Dead

    http://hiphappy.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/pigpen/

    Brian Jones Built Bridges Between Chicago Blues and Young Rock Fans

    http://hiphappy.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/brian-jones/

    Peace, Love, and Happiness!!
    Dr. Tom

  4. I bought the album today :D

  5. [...] of Sound:  30 Days Out has a good read on one of my favorite blues singers.  One of my favorite later Howlin’ Wolf songs is this version of Little Red Roster off of [...]

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