A Chicago blues stalwart who recorded for Chess during the label's heyday in the 1950s and rivaled Muddy Waters as the genre's most dynamic performer, Chester Burnett, aka Howlin' Wolf, was possessed by the blues. A monster of a man, Wolf pushed 300 pounds, stood more than six feet tall, and scowled like a junk yard dog; and he put it all into belting out blues of the most ferocious sort. Born in Mississippi, home state to many Chicago blues artists, Wolf learned the rudiments of music from the Delta bluesmen all around him. By the time he gave up farming and came north to Chicago in 1953, he had already recorded in Memphis with Sam Phillips, who leased Wolf's tracks to Chess. Wolf's whiny, piercing vocals turned many of his Willie Dixon-penned songs into surly diatribes about bad luck, bad women and bad times. Like Charley Patton, Howlin' Wolf took blues performance to the extreme, singing on his back, kicking up his feet -- in essence, throwing a blues tantrum that gushed with intensity. Many songs from Wolf's Chess catalogue are classics: "Spoonful," "Little Red Rooster," "Evil," "Back Door Man," "I Ain't Superstitious," "Smokestack Lightning," "Killing Floor" and "Shake for Me," for example. Virtually every great performer who followed Wolf acknowledged his genius. Howlin' Wolf continued to record and perform throughout the 1960s, serving along with Muddy Waters as a blues standard-bearer and bringing the form closer to rock & roll through his impact on groups like the Rolling Stones.
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