Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-Forever) The man who inspired me for the first time.
“The Blues is how you been treated… Good or bad.”
“Smokestack Lightning” the number 291 on Rolling Stone’s Best 500 Songs of all Time was the Blues introduction song for me. I did not realize that music could sound like that and I didn’t realize that a man could howl like this and make it so good.
Born in 1910 in Mississippi, Chester Burnett probably did not realize how great of a gift to the world was born. Separated parents, abuse, running from home, all lead him to becoming an example of results achieved by hard work and dedicated focus.
Just like Wolf was a moving influence for me, Charley Patton was for him. In 1930’s the latter saw potential in Chester and taught him some blues guitar. Falling in love with the Blues, Howlin’ Wolf began his solo career shortly after, crossing paths with Delta Blues Fathers like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and many many more.
Howlin’ Wolf – Spoonful
Few years after the WWII ended, Howlin’ Wolf formed his first band in Arkansas and generated even more fame until in early 50’s Leonard Chess signed a contract with Wolf to join Chess Records.
Wolf was always a pleasure to be around with, always leaving others wanting more of his company and happy to see him again. It is true that when people listened to Chester Burnett, everything stopped and his voice, guitar or harmonica took hold of all around. He was fair and just to his band members and to everyone around him. Most notable among them was Hubert Sumlin, who added delicious fuzzy lead to Burnett’s roaring voice. Together for 23 years, the two have punched each others teeth out and often created atmosphere worth recalling a decade later. Hubert Sumlin was was so good with his Les Paul that Muddy Waters tripled his pay to steal Sumlin from Wolf. The temptation took the best of Hubert but in a matter of days he returned to a real bandleader – Howlin’ Wolf.
By 1970’s Wolf’s health began to deteriorate and he survived several heart-attacks. Further show of his character was that he never stopped playing, composing, performing and influencing others further. He always gave his best to his listeners, even if he had to get out of deathbed to do so.
In the first month of 1976 Chester Arthur Burnett did not survive another heart attack. His passing was a sincere and deep loss for all who knew him and many of those who did not. He made everyone feel themselves a little better, a little lighter, have a little more purpose and see that life is never empty.
Howlin’ Wolf Guitar
1965 Epiphone Casino
60’s Fender Stratocaster
1968 Fender Coronado
There are many points which I could use to identify with Chester Arthur Burnett more commonly known as Howlin’ Wolf. His presence on the stage, his presence in his songs and the presence of his music in my heart left a thirst for more. Wolf was the reason why I bought my first guitar, the reason why I looked up Blues Music and the reason I am where I am today.
The great man took no mess from no one. He felt on his own pelt that people can be evil and can hurt you if you give them a chance. So, he didn’t give them any. He was strict but he was just. He was loving and caring but when responsibility came in play – Wolf was demanding and immovable to foolin’ around. He was loved throughout life by all who met him or worked with him. Countless recollections from his family and friends is overwhelming with love and warm memories that Wolf gave them.
I’ve spent many days listening to the Wolf howl. So many that now I feel that warmth of family when I think about his story. I miss him as my own father yet I never met the man. I hope that his memory remains in infamy for he was the father to many generations of guitarists to come. He was the Grand-daddy Wolf.
I thank Chester Arthur Burnett for inspiring me, for inspiring others, for making all the right choices that led to me, hopefully, making mine.