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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

on 27 October 2017
Great book on a great musician depicting the life and times of this outstanding blues artist. Making anyone understand the music of Howling Wolf definitely better. Well written and compelling.
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on 4 April 2015
good rea\d
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on 12 November 2017
A fantastic biography of one of my, if not my favourite, blues artists. As another reviewer as observed, his life would make a great film. His early life was heart-breaking; leaving home at thirteen, bare-footed...no wonder he sings the blues with such authority. He had the most distinctive voice in not just blues, but any sub-genre of what forms popular music...full of power and presence, blues at its rawest. What was also really impressive was his desire to improve himself through education, both musical and formal. Illiterate for a large part of his life, he took lessons as a mature man without any sense of self-consciousness. A riveting story.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 July 2014
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.
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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.
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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)
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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
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on 11 May 2017
A fantastc insight into the life of this great man and those who played with him. An absolute must for any blues fan
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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.
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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.
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