on 28 June 2004
Without a doubt this is the finest biography ever written about a blues legend. It crackles with life and I enjoyed and savoured every moment.
The story of Wolf's early years and what he went through growing up in Mississippi was sad and deeply moving and gives a sensitive insight into the true character of the man. The way his mother continues to reject him because she believes the blues is 'the Devil's music' is a tragedy made all the more poignant by the way it effects Wolf as a grown man as he attempts a reconciliation. His whole life in fact reads not unlike a Faulkner novel and is just as riveting.
The many anecdotes from musicians and associates create a vivid picture of the Chicago blues scene of the fifties and sixties. It's a fascinating tale lovingly told and beautifully crafted and had me doubled up on the floor with laughter on more than one occasion. I also valued the details of Wolf's recording sessions which added a whole new insight into tracks I've loved and returned to time and again over the past forty years.
Even if you're not a blues fan this book is a fascinating read. And if you like blues and especially if you've ever dug a Wolf track then you'd better get a copy...and fast! Believe me, you won't be disappointed.
on 22 January 2005
This book sets a new standard for music biographies, the authors have really done their research. Not only that, Chester almost jumps off the pages so well do they reveal a complex and private man. Descriptions of live performances and studio sessions are finely detailed, due to the numerous interviews the authors conducted with sidemen, producers, fans and family members. Good thing these writers started work on the book many years ago; a number of the interviewees have since died, making this the final word on working/living with the Wolf. Outstanding.
on 29 June 2004
I tend to find biographies polarise either towards pointless extrapolated guesses by authors, or are very thoroughly researched. This book falls into the latter category, and has footnotes like a doctoral thesis
This doesn't get in the way of the story of the man, though. If you're interested in Howlin Wolf, there's no option: buy this book and read it (PS: the hardback version I received looks great)
on 9 June 2012
I am not a great fan of biographies, but I am a fan of Howlin' Wolf's music, and since I really didn't know his story I thought it might make for a good read. I was blown away by the effect the book had on my understanding of that period, the Blues, and America.
This is the story of the Blues, a must for anyone who wants to understand where this music comes from historically, psychologically, and ethnomusicologically, and how the foundations of so many later musical genres were based on the work of a relatively small number of talented, hard working musicians.
The authors have achieved a remarkable balance between sticking to an objective portrait of a complex and not altogether pleasant man, while inspiring intense passion for his music. When the art of a man is divine it is easy to idolize the man, but they have succeeded in avoiding this.
on 30 April 2009
I fully agree with the other reviews.
As a youth in the 60's I listened to a lot of the old blues men, but over the years I moved away musically. My interest was renewed when I saw old film clips of Wolf in action, listening to a record is only half of the performance.
The amount of detail in this book is astonishing. It creates a vivid picture of the life of a country blues man before the Second War. Reading the details of life in the Southern USA is alarming (even though we already know all about it). Little wonder that men like Wolf could sing 'the blues' whilst so many blues-men today are going through the motions.
This book is extremely well researched, and very well written. It is essential for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the roots of pop, rock & roll, soul, rap.
What a character Wolf was, they don't make them like that anymore!
on 15 May 2014
A great story of a wonderful performer. How he made his way to the top...and stayed there, through very difficult times. What a band leader, focused, quietly generous to his musicians and others in their cups, but also a giant of a guy that no one would mess with. A fascinating insight into a world of treachery and danger that was/is the american black music scene through the latter half of the 20th century. One of the best reads about the blues era in USA
on 27 April 2008
Seeing this book was one of the reasons I set about the task of writing Revelation Blind Willie Johnson The Biography in an attempt to emulate this great tribute to a great man, this is surely the definitive work on the life of Howlin' Wolf, a must read to anyone interested in the man and his music!
on 4 November 2010
I don't feel I need to add much to the above reviews; this is one of the finest biographies you can read and it really does do the mighty Wolf justice. There have been other essays and sketches of Wolf, but this is the only full and complete book on the subject that I know of. And it's very good indeed, absolutely worth it and satisfying. The research is extensive and impeccable - this should have been done right and it has been done right. There is an accompanying video DVD (if you can get it) which complements the book and is worth tracking down. This book could well be read in conjunction with 'Can't be satisfied - the life and times of Muddy Waters' by Robert Gordon, which IMHO is superior to the Sandra Tooze biography.
And it will also be read while listening to Howling Wolf. I'm fairly certain that anyone wanting to read a book on Wolf will know the music well enough. It is a body of work that has such raw power, aggression and mystery that it retains its distilled potency to this day. Timeless. There is, finally, no answer (nor need there be) to the mystery of his music and that voice, but here is his life story.
Very highly recommended.
on 29 April 2013
This book is a must read for any blues fan, let alone Wolf fan. Amazing amount of detail, especially Wolf's band line ups on various recordings. Really opens up his character and paints a compelling picture of life as a blues musician at peak of it all. Fantastic to hear about his upbringing, work ethic and commitment to the blues. A inspirational musician and band leader. I've become an even bigger fan having read this book. Also check out Buddy Guy's biography. From a Chicago blues history perspective, some of the stories cross over and the Buddy Guy book offers a really cool counterpoint to this one (Buddy Guy played with both Wolf & Muddy Waters, and Muddy features quite a bit in this book as Wolf's main rival).
I've been a fan of Howlin' Wolf's music for 50 years and so was very glad to get this book to read about his life and times. The lives of most bluesmen are very similar - born in poverty in the south, father leaves, makes guitar using baling wire, goes north etc etc - and I found the early pages were a bit tedious, especially the details of each woman he took up with in his early life. However, the book really comes alive when he starts playing music and very quickly the character of 'The Wolf' emerges and turns out to be anything but your typical bluesman.
Indeed I felt that the picture of the man that is created in the book, based on reminiscences from friends, family and musical colleagues, was an honest and well-rounded description of a man who wasn't as straight forward as he first seemed. Although illiterate he went back to school in later life to learn both the three Rs and musical theory and he also encouraged other bluesman to do the same. Some band members saw him as a strict disciplinarian, others found him to be a father figure, some found him a tough, violent man, while others said he was quiet and kind-hearted. However, all agreed that he was a wonderful performer and that he gave his all in EVERY performance, even in later life when he was in bad health. I've always felt that he was one of the most primal sounding of bluesmen but through the book we learn that this wasn't an accident and that he carefully put together his sound from influences like Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson and took great care in choosing the right personnel for his backing musicians.
As well as a giving a real insight into Howlin' Wolf the man and his recordings, the book also presents a picture of a bluesman's life in the south after the war (in Wolf's case West Memphis and its environs) and later of the blues scene in Chicago in the 50s and 60s and of touring, both in the States and internationally. It also describes Wolf's (and blues in general) struggles as rock and soul became the predominant musics in the late 60s and beyond and blues fell out of favour. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in blues or the roots of popular music.