Doin' His Midnight Creep- The Howlin' Wolf Story
The Howlin’ Wolf Story, Howlin’ Wolf and various artists and commentators, Productions, 2004
I have reviewed several of Howlin’ Wolf’s CDs in this space previously and had expected that this documentary about the life, the times and the influence of this incredible blues performer would merely be an appetizer for further reviews of his music. Not so. This well-done, lovingly put together and extremely informative documentary is a worthy viewing for the novice and old Wolf aficionados like me. Thus, rather than placing this commentary as a tail to some other Wolf entry it is worthy of separate entry here.
In this presentation filled, as always in this kind of work, with the inevitable “talking heads” we go from Wolf‘s roots down in the Mississippi Delta, cotton country and nothing else, in the 1920’s and 1930’s through to the first stop up the Mississippi at Memphis on to the Mecca Chicago in the post- World War II period and finally to international renown in the blues revival started by the likes of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton the mid-1960s. In short we are treated to a view of the trajectory of Wolf’s life; unlike let us say Son House with whom Wolf worked with in the old days who stuck with the country roots, from country blues of the back road jukes to the electricity of the urban ghetto that made those old blues jump for, at first, migratory urban blacks and then young whites like this reviewer. Along the way many of the musicians that worked with Wolf like Hubert Sumerlin, a blues guitarist legend in his own right, and Sam Lay as well as Wolf’s daughters, the Chess Record producer Marshall Chess and others give some amusing stories and anecdotes on the life of the great bluesman. And seemingly as always when blues or rock and roll are mentioned little segments with the ubiquitous Sam Phillips of the well-known Sun Recording studio in Memphis.
I do not generally comment on (or for that matter look at) the special features sections of DVD. Not doing so here would be a mistake. There is some nice home movie footage, some interesting Wolf stories by his companions and rivals, a nice segment on the rivalry between Wolf and Muddy Waters to be “King of The Chicago Blues” and a recording of a radio broadcast of Wolf doing "Little Red Rooster". Damn, I flipped out the first time I heard that song when it was covered by The Rolling Stones in the early 1960’s. I also flipped out when I first heard a Wolf recording of it. I don’t know what I would have done had I heard it on my radio then. Probably started hitchhiking for Chicago.
All of this information is nice but I am sure the reader is just as interested to know about the music. Oh yes there is some great footage of classic Wolf efforts. Of course for this reviewer number one is always Wolf’s "Little Red Rooster". Christ, he is practically eating the harmonica by the end of the song. "Lovin’ Spoonful", "Moaning at Midnight" and a host of other songs get their usual professional Wolf treatment. That is a point to be underscored, he was a professional in his approach to the music, its presentation and the way that he could influence a genre that he practically build (along with his competitor Muddy Waters) from scratch. If you need an hour of the Wolf doin’ his Midnight Creep then you really have to see this documentary. Kudos to the filmmakers on this one.