The Mississippi-born blues singer Chester Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf(1920-76) made many classic recordings for CHESS during the 1950s & early 1960s. Many of them can be found on this excellent 75-minute, 25-track CD recorded in Memphis, Chicago and London(the final track) between 1951 & 1970. Howlin' Wolf's intensely powerful and primal singing is well displayed on this marvellous CD with stellar sidemen such as Willie Johnson(guitar); Hubert Sumlin(guitar); Otis Spann(piano); Willie Dixon(bass) & Earl Phillips(drums). Howlin' Wolf had a massive influence on the British 'blues boom' of the early 1960s and 'The Genuine Article' is an ideal introduction to his intense and eery brand of Chicago blues.
This is a very good attempt at making a definitive single-disc overview of the Wolf's 25-year recording career. It doesn't quite match the combined volumes I and II of Chess' own "The Best", but the compilers have managed to include almost all of Howlin' Wolf's best songs (although the excellent "Hidden Charms" is missing, and a couple of other selections are debatable as well). But "Smokestack Lightnin'" is here, as is "How Many More Years", "Forty-Four", "I Ain't Superstitious" and Wolf's best song, "Killing Floor". A very good introduction, though not quite defintive. 4½ stars.
The late great Sam Phillips thought that The Howlin' Wolf was the greatest artist he had worked with. As he had also discovered Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis among others this can be considered noteworthy praise. This CD shows why, tracing his music from his first proper single, Moanin' At Midnight (1951) through to the 1970 re-make of The Red Rooster (the original 1961 version is also included). As the Rolling Stones had recorded it as a hit single (renamed Little Red Rooster) and then exposed him to the American TV audience by introducing him on Shindig, it is fitting that Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts are among the all-star band accompanying him, and the track begins with Eric Clapton receiving instruction from the Wolf on how to play it.
Although Howlin' Wolf's main instrument was the harmonica, he had been taught guitar by Charlie Patton in the 1920s, and another highlight of the disc is a rare solo acoustic version of Patton's Ain't Goin' Down That Dirt Road. Spoonful, which Cream famously popularised, is also here, as is Back Door Man, Wang Dang Doodle, Smokestack Lightnin' and Sittin' On The Top Of The World. Are single-artist compilation always a good idea? They can be a valuable introduction to a first-time buyer by cherry-picking from a number of albums and initially seem terrific value for money, but is it a record company ruse? Each other album you then buy as a result duplicates some of the titles you already have, until ultimately the initial purchase becomes redundant and you have poured more cash into the company coffers than if you had just bought the proper albums in the first place. If the artists' original catalogue isn't widely available then the situation gets worse as you are forced into collecting other compilations, forever increasing the likelihood of duplication as you forget in the shop what tracks you already have in your collection, or are obliged to buy titles you already have in order to acquire the few that you haven't. This 1997 Chess compilation has 25 tracks of which all were previously readily available, but the good news is that they all benefit from the digital re-mastering afforded here. In fact 13 of these tracks are in stereo mixes, the earliest being from 1957, which makes me wonder why some of the later tracks, such as Killing Floor from 1964, are not. Conversely, Forty Four (from 1954) is in mono, whereas a stereo version of the same take had been released. It is a further general gripe that the disc has to be purchased to ascertain just what is in mono or stereo as only too typically both the CD case and otherwise excellent liner notes omit this information