Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Howlin Wolf Was Moanin' At Midnight

Howlin' Wolf (DeviantArt User FrelsAreN/CC)
Chicago blues are a truly deep vein in American music. After our series on Muddy Waters, it becomes evident that if we put that kind of attention into every great Chicago blues man we will never see any of Route 66. There is a lot more to mention though, so hang on tight and I will try to race us through the rest of the story.

The story of Muddy Waters has a sort of reflection. Muddy Waters had rivals. One of the biggest rivals to Muddy Waters was born in White Station, Mississippi on June 10, 1910. He would be given the name Chester Arthur Burnett, being named after the U.S. president Chester Arthur. We know him as Howlin' Wolf.


As a young child, he would hear stories from his grandfather about the wolves that  ran about in the part of the south and warned the boy, "If you don't behave, them howlin' wolves are gonna get ya." Like Muddy Waters he was given his nickname by a grandparent. He became Howlin' Wolf. As young man, he was big. At 6 foot 3 and 275 lbs., he was big and answered to other nicknames such as  Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow.  But Howlin' Wolf is the name that stayed with him.

Howlin' Wolf had a fairly rough childhood. His parents broke up when he was very young. He was a rebellious kid and his mother threw him out of the house for refusing to work on the farm. A harsh sentence for not doing chores, His uncle took him in at that point, but it was reported that he treated the boy badly. At the age of 13, Howlin' Wolf ran away. 

Later, Howlin' Wolf claimed was that he walked for 85 miles to go to the home of his estranged father. Finally, life was good as the boy settled into his fathers large and happy family, 

His mother never really forgave him and years later, after achieving success he returned home to visit her. She was not welcoming and drove him to tears, He tried to give her some money to make her life a little easier, but she refused saying that the only reason he had money was because he played  the 'devils music". Being treated that way by your own mother is enough to give a guy the blues-and Howlin' Wolf could moan the blues! But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before Howlin' Wolf could return to his mother as a success, only to be snubbed, first he needed to get his skills. 

Early Career

In 1930, Howlin' Wolf met blues legend Charlie Patton. They hit it off and Wolf was soon being taught to play guitar by Charlie Patton. Since Patton was a well known performer, some would claim the most famous blues man in the Delta area, he taught Howlin' Wolf a bit about performing as much as about playing. He taught Wolf to spin his guitar wrap it behind his back, toss it into the air and all the while keep the song alive, The legacy of Patton's showmanship gave Howlin' Wolf a leg up on other performers of his day. That same legacy  Jimi Hendrix would bring to the rock world nearly 40 years later.

With his flashy guitar handling, Howlin' Wolf performed throughout the south learning tricks and songs from other blues players recordings, He also preformed with a who's who of famous blues players playing in the area. It was a rich period in blues music and some of the talent that he performed with included Floyd Jones, Honeyboy Edwards, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Robert Johnson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Son House and Willie Johnson. 

In 1941, Wolf was called up by the draft board and in April reported for duty. He served for two uncomfortable years, primarily in Washington and Oregon, finding it difficult to adjust to military life, In 1943 he was discharged and went back to his family, who had recently moved to a farm in West Memphis. Wolf worked the fields during the day and tried to rebuild his career in the evenings. 

His Big Break

1948 saw him fronting a band that included harmonica ace Junior Parker and guitarists  Matt "Guitar"Murphy and Willie Johnson, KWEM in West Memphis began to broadcast his performance. Soon the KFFA  in Helena followed suit, taking his music from the back road juke joints of the Deep South to white listeners in the area who might tune in to a "colored" broadcast.

One of those people may very well have been Sam Phillips, The owner of the Memphis Recording Service, he was was the first to get Howlin' ,Wolf in a studio in 1951. The time was right. Phillips leased the tracks out to a few other studios around the country for regional release, a practise in the days of small regional record labels, Riding In The Moonlight on came out on Los Angeles' RPM records and How Many More Years on Chicago's Chess Records. Both records featured Moanin' After Midnight as the B-side.

Both records were hits and the owners of RPM Records, the Bihari brothers and the Chess brothers in Chicago claimed exclusive contracts for future Howlin' Wolf recordings. Ultimately Chess won out and Chester Arthur Burnett, the Howlin' Wolf accepted "a 4000 car and 3900 dollars in my pocket". Wolf took the car and money and moved to Chicago.

Chess Records

Howlin' Wolf was joined by a Memphis band mate on the move to Chicago, rhythm guitar player Huber Sumlin. Sumlin would stay with Wolf for most of his career. His guitar playing offering an attacking angular style to compliment the rough grown of the Wolf.

(Source Wikipedia)
He would give Chess five R & B chart ranking songs during the 1950's, Moanin' at Midnight, Smokestack Lightning, How Many More Years, Who Will Be Next, and the wonderfully titled I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline).  But it was his work in the early 1960's that really made his legacy. Songs such as Back Door Man, Wang Dang Doodle, Back Door Man, Killing Floor, Spoonful,  Little Red Rooster (Originally title The Red Rooster), and I Ain't Superstitious all came out then.

As we saw with Muddy Waters, Chess records had switched from a singles format to an album format for its artists in 1959. As a result Howlin' Wolfs early 1960's work were album tracks that did not make the charts, but it did get the attention of rock musicians, particularly in England.

The Rolling Stones and Shindig!

The Rolling Stones had a number one hit in Britain with their cover of Little Red Rooster. Like Muddy Waters song being the bands name tied the Stones to Muddy Waters, that early Rolling Stones hit tied the band to Howlin Wolf. There was a certain sort of special relationship between the blues man and the British rockers. For a 1965 appearance on the US TV program Shindig!, the Stones made it a condition that they would only appear if they could have Howlin Wolf appear with them as their special guest.  It would be his only national television appearance.

A Famous Rivalry

At Chess Records Leonard Chess ran a system studio. So many of the same marketing tactics he took with Muddy Waters, he also took with Howlin' Wolf. Both of them began their album releases with collections of previously released Chess Records. They both were marketed, with modest success to fans of the "Great Folk Music Scare" of the early 1960's. They both had London Session Albums. They both had experimental forays into "psychedelic" music with little success.

(Flickr User kevin dooley/CC)
Another way he way like Muddy Waters was that  Howlin' Wolf was a popular live act and performed often.  On stage he was the Wolf, stalking the stage and pouncing on Willie Dixon's songs with a growl. In fact it was those Willie Dixon songs that had a lot to do with the rivalry felt between Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Willie Dixon was able to churn out the hits for both men, but Wolf always felt that Muddy was getting the better tracks to record. Willie and Leonard Chess were said to have egged on the rivalry a bit to bring out better performances for both men. 

Howlin' Wolf was particularly good to the members of his band paying them well, and even providing insurance, Even today, many musicians do not get benefits like that. He was a competitive. and economically a pretty conservative guy. Even though it was a friendly rivalry, Wolf thought that Muddy Waters was making more money because of who got what songs from Willie Dixon.

It probably wasn't personal. Willie Dixon reportedly once said "Muddy is the kind of person you can give any kind of lyric, he's what you call a quick study. Wolf, you can't give him too many words, because he gets 'em all jumbled up. And if he gets 'em right, he still ain't gonna get the right meaning".

One Last Hit

In the late 1960's Howlin Wolf's long life of performing was catching up with him and his health began to decline. In 1969, he suffered his first heart attack, It did not stop him. By May if 1970 he was well enough to travel to England where he recorded The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions that had some well known sidemen from the rock world such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Steve Winwood, Ringo Starr, and Ian Stewart.

The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions was his most successful album eventually peaking at number 19 during its 15 week run on the Billboard Top 200. It would be a bit of a swan song.

The Wolf Stops Howlin'

Howlin' Wolf In 1972(Source Wikipedia)
Howlin Wolf  had few more studio albums in him, in 1971 he released his "psychedelic" record Message To The Young, Like Muddy Waters, the psychedelic experiment proved to be the low point in his career. Shortly after it s release he suffered another heart attack.

Doctors found his kidneys to be failing. The quickly got him onto a dialysis treatments and told him he needed to stop performing. Howlin' Wolf was a pro and for a pro the show must go on. He ignored his doctors.

Howlin Wolf recorded a last live album in 1972 ,and his last studio album, The Back Door Wolf , in 1973. He was nominated a few Grammys in 1975, but the end was near.

On January 7, 1976, Howlin Wolf was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Surgery was performed, but he never recovered and he was taken off life support and died on January 10, 1976. he would not live to see his rival have a bloom of late career success with Johnny Winters, the Wolf would howl now more.


Another similarity between Waters and the Wolf were the awards and recognition they both received.

The Blues Foundation Awards Nominations in 1981, 1989, 1990, 1995 and  2004

The Blues Foundation Awards Won:

  • 1987 Vintage/Reissue Album (US) Moanin' in the Moonlight
  • 1988 Vintage/Reissue Album (Foreign) Killing Floor: Masterworks Vol. 5
  • 1992 Vintage or Reissue Blues Album—US or Foreign The Chess Box—Howlin' Wolf

In 1994, the US Post Office issued a Howlin' Wolf 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.

Hall Of Fame Inductions

  • 1980 Blues Hall of Fame
  • 1991 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Chief curator John Henke compiled a list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" Three Howlin Wolf records made the list: 1956's Smokestack Lightning , 1960's Spoonful, and 1961's The Red Rooster)
  • 1999        Grammy Hall Of Fame (Smokestack Lightning Blues (Single) Chess 1956)
  • 2003 Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame

The Howlin' Wolf Foundation has been established by Bettye Kelly to preserve and extend Howlin' Wolf's legacy. The foundation mission and goals include the preservation of the blues music genre, scholarships for students to participate in music programs, and support for blues musicians and blues programs.

(Flickr User Gary J. Wood/CC)

Playlist Additions

The playlist get some limited additions from the Howlin Wolf catalog this week. He deserves more, but I find my collection not as deep with his music as it should be.

Artist: Howlin' Wolf

I Asked For Water (She gave Me Gasoline) A Rage In Harlem (Music From The Film) 2:51
Saddle My Pony Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Howlin' Wolf 2:34
Worried About My Baby (rehearsal) Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Howlin' Wolf 4:33
Smokestack Lightin' Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey 3:08
Killing Floor Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey 2:50
Highway 49 Car And Driver: Greatest Car Songs And Other Lost Treasures Of The Road 2:48

Signing Off and Coming Attractions

Next Week: The old Highway 101 passes through Old Town San Diego, California. We will return there to celebrate a holiday.
Two Weeks: Leaving Jupiter, Florida and heading North on Interstate 95.
Three Weeks: We return to Chicago, Illinois at the beginning of Route 66 with still more blues.

Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/700 Tracks/173 Videos/32 Posts

Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/518 Tracks/216 Videos/24 Posts

Interstate 95: 92 Miles/1 State/49 Tracks/87 Videos/10 Posts

To get more Old Highway Notes by email, enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased. With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you.


To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
 photo 750px-US_101mid_zps4ac85a99.png

Vista Points-Be social, Get more info, View our YouTube playlist

Visit our Gift Shop-It has new items every week!

 photo gift_shop_107794_tnbmidsize_zps6001c771.jpg

    Saturday, October 18, 2014

    The Wild Man of The Loxahatchee

    Trapper Nelson (Flickr User Dreaming in the deep south/CC)
    Before we return to Interstate 95 heading North through Florida we are going to take a little side trip out of Jupiter and up the Loxahatchee River by canoe.

    Have you ever wanted to just get away from everybody? This is the story of a guy who had that desire. So he made it happen.This is the story of the Wild Man of the Loxahatchee.

    Sometime around 1909, a baby was born to Polish immigrants in Trenton New York. He was named Vincent Nostokovich. As a boy he ran pretty free like many children did in those days. Now, some kids open lemonade stands, but not Vincent. He made money as a child by trapping small rodents such as muskrats in the New Jersey marshlands ans selling the skins.

    When his mother died during his early teens, his father remarried. Vincent and and older step-brother, Charlie ran away to ride the rails as hobos. From New Jersey they rode west to Colorado then wandered south ending up in Mexico. Mexico did not welcome the youthful drifters and the young men were arrested for suspicion of gun running. Somehow gaining his release, Vincent and Charlie hopped a train into the United States where they continued hoboing.
    Before Jupiter, Trapper Nelson Was A Railroad Hobo (Public Domain)

    The brothers hopped off of a boxcar in Jupiter, Florida and decided to stay a while. Somewhere on the road, Vincent and Charlie had changed their name from Nostokovich to the more Americanized name of Nelson.They had a third friend, John Dykas, who joined them to settle on the beach near Jupiter.

    Life was not going to mellow out into a Jimmy Buffett beach bum fantasy for Nelson ,In 1931 Charlie Nelson shot John Dykas in the back. This infuriated Vincent and he would testify in his brothers murder trial that Charlie had done the crime. Vincent testimony resulted in a twenty year sentence for murder at the Raiford Prison for Charlie.

    Vincent was fed up. He just wanted a place to live alone and with little human contact. After being pushed out of his home and being arrested in Mexico he did not seem to have much faith in humanity. Scraping together what he could and borrowing from his sister He purchased 800 acres in the deep woods up the Loxahatchee River into the Northern Everglades.
    Up The Loxahatchee (Flickr User luvjnx/CC)

    Vincent Nelson was living up to his nickname of "Trapper" He set up a homestead near the river around began to live a survivalist kind of lifestyle, trapping smaller animals to sell their skins and dining on the meat. It was a perfect escapist kind of life for a loner like Trapper Nelson. He wanted more land to retreat into. though

    With tourism in Florida continuing to grow in the 1930's, late that decade he hit upon the idea of starting a little zoo of animal he had trapped to draw a few paying visitors. I think his thinking was that if tourist were going to paddle up his river he was going to cash in off of them.
    Jungle cruise at Trapper Nelsons camp circa 1950's (Flickr User Beth Scupham/CC)

    "Trapper Nelsons Zoo and Jungle Gardens" was a successful piece of roadside Americana for a few decades. He attracted some influential visitors like actor Gary Cooper, boxing champion Gene Tunney and many local VIP types. Nelson had begun to be billed as "The Wild Man of the Loxahatchee". He would perform at his zoo, wresting alligators and showing off his animals.

    Trapper had gained quite a bit of land in the 1930's buying out on foreclosure auctions. After running the operation for decades, he made a bid to buy up some more land. When he did a government health inspector toured his property. It was determined that his zoo needed to have lavatories installed that had not been there previously. Nelson complied but his facilities were deemed inadequate and he was forced to close the zoo.

    Already a paranoid guy, this was seen as an attack by the government which caused Trapper Nelson to go full Wild Man. He built dams on the Loxahatchee to slow approaching visitors. He would swing out on ropes over the river to try to scare off the intruders,
    and he would greet those who did get to his homestead with a shotgun .Even his close friends needed to warn him via postcard before visiting his camp.

    Through the 1960's Trapper Nelson was effectively a hermit.In July, 1968 he was a no show to an appointment with a very old friend that he was still speaking to. Concerned, the friend went up the river to the old Zoo where he found a body.Trapper Nelson lay dead on the ground his cabin, a shotgun blast through his stomach..  He died in his zoo that made him famous as the "Wild Man of The Loxahatchee", when all he wanted to do was be alone.

    The case was ruled a suicide by the coroner, but rumors circulated, and still persist, that it was murder. Nelson was not a very popular person to those who knew him, as you might imagine. Many theories exist as to how and why one of his enemies might have murdered him.
    Trapper Nelson and His Dog Bozo (Flickr User Beth Scupham/CC)

    After his death the land reverted to the State of Florida, who added it to the parcel that became Jonathon Dickinson State Park. The homestead and zoo was designated the "Trapper Nelson Zoo Historical Area" by the Parks Department. Today it is a largely unrestored ghost property visited most often by canoers and kayakers exploring the river. Rangers are on hand at times to answer questions.

    The zoo is said to be haunted by the ghost of Trapper Nelson, so if you go there keep a wary eye. Who knows, you might be visited by the spirit of the Wild Man of The Loxahatchee.

    Two videos help visualize our trip today..The first shows the approach to the camp, up the river by canoe. The second actually tours the camp and looks at the remains of Trapper Nelsons Zoo. Unfortunately, you tour guide is a bit of goof, but it does cover the property well.

    Playlist Additions

    This week our playlist additions will musically tell the story of Trapper Nelson and his zoo. At least the titles do, I tried to stay with lyrics that fit the story as good as possible, but you know, the devils in the details, as they say.

    Trapper Nelson (Flickr User Beth Scupham/CC)
    Louis Armstrong kicks off the story with a title track, Wild Man Blues from 1927. More blues follow with John Lee Hooker representing Nelsons Freight riding years with the song Hobo Blues.

    Musically we move forward to Trapper Nelson's dropping out and moving upriver to start his homestead. The music gets funkier with The Meters, from New Orleans and their track Jungle Man.

    Lazy River,  a Louis Armstrong cover of the Hoagy Carmichael hit, follows. It suggests the flavor of the early days Trapper Nelson spent on the Loxahatchee building his homestead.

    Next came the era when his zoo was visited by stars and travelers. When he was a showman and a worthwhile stop on the Florida tourist route, Fur Trappers Ball, by Woody Herman kicks things off. Sadly, YouTube did not have an example of the track to share with you.

    Trapper Nelson was known for his act of wrestling alligators. This brings us to a zydeco number taken from an early 90's promotional CD I sent away for after seeing an ad in small print at the back of some music magazine. Adventures In Music sent me about a dozen discs and one was a pretty good Cajun mix. From that CD,  Myrick "Freeze" Guillory plays Gator Man. Sorry I can't help with any links to this track, it's one that would require some hunting down.

    How did people who visited the zoo react to seeing a Wild Man wrestling alligators. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra give us a Tourist Point Of View. Originally from his Far East Suite, I have used the remastered version heard in the documentary Ken Burns's Jazz: The Story Of American Music.

    The good times ended at Trapper Nelsons Zoo when he was closed down by the government. Camper Van Beethoven talks about being closed down in Shut Us Down from their debut album.

    Paranoid was how the whole situation left the Wild Man of the Loxahatchee. Black Sabbath have the market cornered on that subject with their timeless hit.

    Suicide Is Painless was an instrumental as the TV series theme and I would guess that is the version of the song most people would recognize. The version on our playlist in reference to Trapper Nelsons self inflicted demise is from the film MASH. The song as used in the film features softer instrumentation and the little heard lyrics to the song.

    The Beau Hunks are a Dutch group who recreate traditional pop music. They have a series of recreations of soundtrack music from the old Hal Roach comedies. One of the albums from the series, released in 1995, features music from the Little Rascals films. As a fan of the original films I think they hit the nail on the head with their performances. The track I selected to close this week pays homage to the popularity of the zoo ruins with canoeists and kayakers today. I hope you enjoy In My Canoe by the Beau Hunks.

    Trapper Nelson's Today (Flickr User luvjnx/CC)
    Wild Man Blues  The Complete Columbia/Okeh & RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933 (Box Set) Louis Armstrong 3:18
    Hobo Blues  I'm John Lee Hooker John Lee Hooker 2:48
    Jungle Man Rejuvenation The Meters 3:26
    Lazy River  The Complete Columbia/Okeh & RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933 (Box Set) Louis Armstrong 3:06
    Fur Trapper's Ball Woodchopper's Ball Woody Herman 3:10
    Gator Man Cajun Festival Sampler Myrick "Freeze" Guillory 3:28
    Tourist Point Of View (Album Version) Ken Burns Jazz-The Story Of America's Music Duke Ellington and His Orchestra 5:08
    Shut Us Down Camper Van Beethoven Camper Van Beethoven 1:26
    Paranoid We Sold Our Soul For Rock 'N' Roll Black Sabbath 2:51
    Suicide Is Painless  Movie Music: The Definitive Performances (Film Soundtrack Compilation) MASH Soundtrack 2:56
    In My Canoe The Beau Hunks Play the Original Little Rascals Music: 50 Roy Shield Themes from the Hal Roach Talkies The Beau Hunks 1:50

    Signing Off And Coming Attractions

    I hope you enjoyed the story of the Wild Man of the Loxahatchee. Have you ever "dropped" out? What happened? Did you have any great adventures or terrible disasters? Let us know about it in the comments.

    Next Week: Route 66 in Chicago, Illinois is keeping us deep in the blues. Our next post is about Muddy Waters chief rival, the Howlin' Wolf.
    Two Weeks: San DiegoCalifornia's Old Town has plenty more in store for us before we continue North on the old Highway 101.
    Three Weeks: We will be leaving Jupiter. Florida and heading North On Interstate 95 as continue our journey.

    Mileage Stats

    Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/694 Tracks/166 Videos/31 Posts

    Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/518 Tracks/216 Videos/24 Posts

    Interstate 95: 92 Miles/1 State/49 Tracks/87 Videos/10 Posts

    To get more Old Highway Notes by email, enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased. With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you.


    To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
     photo 750px-US_101mid_zps4ac85a99.png

    Vista Points-Be social, Get more info, View our YouTube playlist

    Visit our Gift Shop-It has new items every week!

     photo gift_shop_107794_tnbmidsize_zps6001c771.jpg