Howlin’ Wolf Interview
“I always make up songs about the way people live and how people act amongst themselves. Ups and downs they have. Some people have ups and downs, and what caused these things. A lot of people come out and sing but they don’t never put their sweetening into it. You’ve got to tell the peoples why you’re singing this, and what causing this, and showing them what you’re singing. You’ve got to make your story clear to the peoples if you want to hand it to them. You’ve got to make a story now and make it stick. You’ve got to tell people just like it is. How things go. You’ve got to make everything, every word tailored. Every word fits.” – Howlin’ Wolf
Chester Arthur Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) (June 10, 1910 – Jan 10, 1976)
- Big Mama Thornton interviewed by Chris Strachwitz 00:00
Interviewee: Howlin’ Wolf
Interviewer: Chris Strachwitz
Date: April 20, 1967
Location: The Matrix, 3138 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA, Opening band: Sopwith Camel
See below photo gallery for a transcript of the interview
Howlin’ Wolf Interview Transcript:
A Note About the Transcriptions: In order to expedite the process of putting these interviews online, we are using a transcription service. Due to the challenges of transcribing speech – especially when it contains regional accents and refers to regional places and names – some of these interview transcriptions may contain errors. We have tried to correct as many as possible, but if you discover errors while listening, please send corrections to email@example.com.
This transcript has been kindly reviewed, edited and corrected by Mark Hoffman Co-author of “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf”
Chris: Wolf, where were you raised?
Howlin’ Wolf: Monroe County. It’s about 150 miles from Memphis, Tennessee: south.
Chris: That down in the Delta?
Howlin’ Wolf: It’s in Mississippi in the hills, well, let’s say the prairies.
Chris: Who were some of the people that you heard when you were a kid?
Howlin’ Wolf: Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Chris: Did he come through there?
Howlin’ Wolf: He come through there, but I didn’t get to say nothin’ to him. I just seen him on the bandstand, you know? That was Charlie Patton, the blues singer, around Ruleville, Mississippi. That’s in Sunflower County. I listened to Lonnie Johnson and Mama Rainey. Also, Tampa Red but Lemon Jefferson was my favorite guitar player because he could play notes clear and I like the clear notes on guitar.
Chris: Yeah, he would pick them.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, he picked them more clearly and you could understand what he was doing.
Chris: Did you see Charlie Patton and them guys in beer joints, neighborhood joints?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, you see, wasn’t no beer joints at that time. It was country houses …
Chris: Road houses.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, just country houses on the plantation. Each in one would play for him maybe for Saturday night, Sunday night, and I would follow them around and try to get them to learn me. Charlie started me out picking the guitar, Charlie Patton. Sonny Boy Rice Miller he started me on the blowing the harmonica.
Unknown voice: How old were you when you started? You play beautiful harp.
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, I reckon I was about I’d say 17 when I started blowing the harp.
Unknown voice: Did you play really actively when you were young or did you just play around?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I played around on the plantation, you know/ because I was kinda shy. I had never seen anything. At least anybody come along holler boo!, I was ready to run.
Unknown voice: When did you start on the guitar?
Howlin’ Wolf: I started 1928, the 15th day of January, guitar. I quit about five years playing guitar once, and I quit again in World War II in ‘41, April in ‘41.
Unknown voice: Did you serve in the war?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, I spent five years in the service. I lost 10 years of me and my music.
Unknown voice: I bet that was really rough being in the service. You probably don’t get a chance to play much.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, no, no. That never happen. Then I was back home about three or four years more before I decided I really wanted to play. So I picked it up again.
Unknown voice: Who did you listen to of the electric guitarists when you started to play?
Howlin’ Wolf: Electric guitarists? Well, at first when I got saw was in Sears and Roebuck books, catalogs, you know. Fact it been, I think I was the first one ever brought electric guitar through the Arkansas side you know, because all the rest of the people had those ordinary guitars.
Unknown voice: Did you get around to hear people in other towns very much at all when you were living down there?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, no.
Unknown voice: You just were pretty much ……
Howlin’ Wolf: No, because I was a day hand. I laid around on the farms.
Chris: Where was it near? Near Helena?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, this is …
Chris: Way back in the ‘30s.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, it was between West Memphis and Forrest City, Arkansas. We stayed in a place they called Parkin, Arkansas, P-A-R-K-I-N.
Chris: I know where that is. Did you work as a one man band ever? Did you go out in the streets…
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, I went out in the street and sung as a one man band, had my harp around my neck like Jimmy Reed, you know? I had me some kind of horn on my knee and had my guitar.
Unknown voice: When did you first move up north?
Howlin’ Wolf: I came up here in ‘52.
Unknown voice: You worked at a radio station.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, in West Memphis. I was a planters disc jockey, speak about the plow tools and cows and grain and stuff like that. It wasn’t like the big station over in Memphis. They spoke about a lot of merchandise, but I spoke about a lot of plow tools.
Unknown voice: Like a rural station for rural people.
Howlin’ Wolf: For the rural people, I spoke about the plow tools and the hay and the corn and stuff. So I come to be good and then the peoples want me to take in some of their shopping broadcast.
Unknown voice: Did you ever run into Walter Horton while you were there, the harp man? Big Walter?
Howlin’ Wolf: Walter Horton?
Unknown voice: Yeah. He played harp.
Howlin’ Wolf: Shakey head Walter?
Unknown voice: Yeah.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, I know Walter Horton.
Unknown voice: What about Memphis Minnie
Howlin’ Wolf: She was in Memphis. I don’t know. I heard now that she had a stroke and lived awhile and died.
Chris: No, she’s still alive. She’s still living in Memphis.
Howlin’ Wolf: I heard she had a stroke.
Chris: Yeah, she did.
Chris: I was wondering when you got your name of Howlin’ Wolf, did you ever hear the old Howlin’ Wolf on Vocalion Records? A long time ago there was another Howlin’ Wolf. He couldn’t really sing like you do, but he called himself. He made the “Howlin’ Wolf Blues”?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, I heard of him.
Unknown voice: Not as good though.
Chris: Did you get your idea from that?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, no. My grandfather gave me the idea.
Chris: Is that right?
Howlin’ Wolf: They used to tell me stories about the wolves and the animals in the forest, see. The way they told it, I thought the wolf was about the baddest one out there. So I’d keep up a lot of devilment and they’d say, I’m going to put that wolf on you. He’ll be here directly. Every night, when I get ready to go to sleep, I’d worry them to tell me the story about the wolf. They just kept calling me Wolf and it’d make me mad, you know what I mean?
Chris: There’s so little known about Rice Miller, the Sonny Boy that was over in Europe. Did you know him when he was younger man?
Howlin’ Wolf: Mm-hmm.
Chris: What was his real name then? Do you know?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, Rice Miller.
Chris: It was Rice Miller.
Howlin’ Wolf: Rice Miller.
Chris: Where was he from? Do you know?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes.
Unknown voice: …… 45 miles Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. That was the St. Louis special ………
Chris: No, that was … They came from a different area. They came from a different section. They came from the Carolinas.
Unknown voice: That was the St. Louis Fever.
Howlin’ Wolf: He was raised up around, I come into him, I met him at a place called Sunnyside, Mississippi and Slaughter, Mississippi and Greenwoods, Mississippi. We come to be friends and I taken him home with me and he saw my sister. He married my sister in the ‘40s, somewhere in there.
Chris: What was her name?
Howlin’ Wolf: Maggie.
Howlin’ Wolf: Jones.
Chris: Does he sing about her in one song he does about the West Memphis Blues?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, no. He don’t sing about her. And so him and her got on bad terms some kind of way, and he left because I didn’t think he wanted to work, you know?
Chris: Was he already blowing harp then?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, he was blowing harp. Then he left, come to Helena, got on King Biscuit time and they put him over big over there, and so he got to the place he got good in some kind of way, and they messed up over there and had to leave there by night. They taken him away in an ambulance, you know? Sonny Boy was a rough boy in his lifetime. You know, some people, they quickly get carried away with the life. That’s like so many young musicians today. They got big heads instead of having a big heart.
Unknown voice: Do you remember a man named Charles Lloyd in one of your groups? He played saxophone.
Howlin’ Wolf: Charles Lloyd?
Unknown voice: Yeah, tall guy?
Unknown voice: Tall fellow.
Unknown voice: Yeah.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I didn’t know him.
Unknown voice: You know what Sonny Boy, his real problem there was? …… You know the [XDI 00:10:37] club over there? He owned that.
Howlin’ Wolf: Who?
Unknown voice: He owned it. Sonny Boy.
Chris: Do you remember the other Sonny Boy who recorded for the Bluebird Company.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, Sonny Boy Williams.
Chris: Yeah. Which one do you think got the name first?
Howlin’ Wolf: The one what got killed.
Chris: The one who made a Bluebird record?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah.
Howlin’ Wolf: This Rice Miller, he tried to use his name in the south. I think Sonny Boy put a little pressure on him, and he had to change it to Little Boy Blue.
Unknown voice: Is that right?
Howlin’ Wolf: He was on a Helena broadcast station as Little Boy Blue because Sonny Boy, before he died, he put pressure on him about using his name down south because it mixed up a lot of people.
Unknown voice: When did you put your first band together?
Howlin’ Wolf: My first band? Oh, I put my first band together in ‘48.
Unknown voice: Who did it have in it? Do you remember?
Howlin’ Wolf: I had Willie Johnson on guitar, and I had Ike Turner.
Unknown voice: Ike Turner?
Howlin’ Wolf: Ike Turner used to be my piano player.
Unknown voice: Is that right? I didn’t know that. That’s great.
Howlin’ Wolf: I had a drummer called Willie Steels.
Unknown voice: I’ve heard of him.
Howlin’ Wolf: That’s all we had, piano, guitar, drum and harp.
Unknown voice: When did you start working with horns?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, after I come to be pretty good, I used a lot of horns around Memphis, different ones. You can’t keep them horns, you know, and so I decided I wouldn’t fool with any more horns. Just stay with you awhile and they get the big ideas and take off. Them horns want to play jazz. Jazz won’t fit what I’m doing.
Unknown voice: Yeah, that’s right.
Howlin’ Wolf: I’m up there playing for life and death on Smokestack Lightning and he playing hoop bop a dop!
Unknown voice: That’s crazy, Wolf.
Unknown voice: Wolf, you know the man that play After Hours. ……. Ike Turner. He used to play for you.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, Ike Turner used to play for me.
Unknown voice: Ike Turner’s good on After Hours…
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. I know him before he started playing guitar…
Unknown voice: Do you know his wife?
Howlin’ Wolf: Tina? Yeah.
Unknown voice: She’s a knockout Did you hear that?
Unknown voice: Yeah, I went to school with her.
Chris: What do you think about all these kids doing your songs, like “Spoonful”? I’ve been hearing that.
Howlin’ Wolf: Well I’ll tell you, there’s nothing wrong with that. I want all of them to make my records, because I gets money out of it, see.
Unknown voice: Have you ever heard any of the younger groups that you like?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh yeah, I’ve heard a lot them.
Unknown voice: Who are some of them that you liked?
Howlin’ Wolf: I like The Rolling Stones, Mule Skinners. I like these boys that’s playing in here tonight. Very much.
Unknown voice: You like Little Rascals?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I don’t know too much about the peoples down here.
Howlin’ Wolf: Go get some more.
It doesn’t matter no different who sang your song. They sang because of the way they feel. Don’t never take and try to change a musician when he does something. Let him play the chords the way he feel. Just like in a conversation with a bunch of people. You talk the way they talk. Don’t try to change nothing, because everything that’s did, somebody added the background to it.
Unknown voice: Even a record you put out “Louise”
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. Jimmie Rodgers.
Chris: On yeah, the old Jimmy Rodgers.
Howlin’ Wolf: He used to sing, “Hoo da lay dee,” you know what I mean? Well I drop mines a little different from him.
Chris: He was really well known.
Howlin’ Wolf: That was my friend.
Chris: Did you meet him?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh yeah, I been with him a lot of times.
Chris: Is that right? Oh, that’s great.
Chris: What sort of shows did you play with him?
Howlin’ Wolf: I didn’t play no shows. He just come down through the prairies, you know. He had different friends down through there, you know? On some of those plantations, you know, he had some friend. While he’d been down there, he just taken up with me. It seemed like I had good sound sense. I was a good boy. So when I’d sit down, he’d be out there on the porch playing to the white people. When he get through playing to the white people, he said, “You seem like you’re innocent.” “Yes,” I’d say. “I am.” So he’d sit down and yodel to me.
Unknown voice: You two were making history.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. He’d sit down and yodel to me and then I’d get out in the field and I’d yodel. I wouldn’t yodel just like him. I brought mine down more different. You know.
Chris: It was just a matter of that “Spoonful” being kind of a dirty song, wasn’t it, to begin with?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, it was a dirty song.
Chris: Kind of like the dirty dozen?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. You see, I really didn’t want to sing it but they insist, you know.
Unknown voice: What about the Little Red Rooster, that you had going?
Howlin’ Wolf: That one come from Charlie Patton. That was his title. But I just changed it around a little bit.
Chris: When did you first meet Hubert, your guitar player?
Howlin’ Wolf: I met him in Hughes, Arkansas.
Chris: Did he come to Chicago with you?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, I paid his way.
Chris: What kind of hit you when you first went to Europe, when all these kids went crazy for you? Did you ever experience that before here?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I had never experienced it before. I don’t know who gave me that chance, but I sure appreciate it. It’s right down my alley. I wondered who give me that chance. It sure was good for me. I really appreciate it. I got a chance to play with the Mule Skinners and Chris Barber. And then I got a chance to go behind the Iron Curtain, East Berlin and Poland. I got a chance to go to Geneva.
Unknown voice: What was it like to play in East Germany?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh, those people eat that stuff up.
Unknown voice: They really did?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. I was to play just one night but I ended up with about three or four nights there.
Chris: You also went to Warsaw, didn’t you?
Howlin’ Wolf: I went to Warsaw.
Chris: Had they ever heard anything quite like that?
Howlin’ Wolf: No.
Unknown voice: Yeah, I bet that hadn’t. Did you hear any music over there that you ……..
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, the first night we got over there, we went to the auditorium. They had a white band playing. They wasn’t going to give us about fifteen minutes, but when got in there and put that stuff down, they moved the white band out.
Unknown voice: What about this song that you wrote, “Shake For Me?? How did you originate that?
Howlin’ Wolf: I don’t know. Whenever I get me a couple of drinks, all my stuff come to me. He’ll tell you he never saw me wasted. I take a few drinks.
Unknown voice: I know that in St. Louis, that “Shake For Me”, that was number one for one month there.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah.
Howlin’ Wolf: Hello. I wouldn’t try to change nobody’s pattern.
Unknown voice: They’ll change it. They’ll go along with anything you want.
Howlin’ Wolf: I know but I wouldn’t do that. I’d rather try to do the job, but I’m …….on that light. That light is bad against my eyes. My eyes never been no good.
Unknown voice: Bill Graham will …
Chris: We’ll tell him to turn it down a little bit.
Unknown voice: Graham, the guy that owns the place, is really happy to do it.
Unknown voice: The music is what’s supposed to be there. The other stuff is just ………
Speaker : Yeah, you’re the main attraction.
Unknown voice: I’ll talk to him right away.
Howlin’ Wolf: Not just one of that main light right down on me. If you turn it a little bit away from my face, some kind of way.
Unknown voice: I heard you were really coming on. I just got here because I heard you were coming on tonight. You feel good?
Speaker : Oh, yeah. Are you going to rival your St. Louis shows here?
Howlin’ Wolf: I’m going to do some of them, yeah.
Unknown voice: I want you to put on one of them lakeside shows.
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh. I don’t do them things rough unless I’ve got some competition. I’m something else when I’ve got somebody to fight against. I’m not bragging, but I’m out of sight when I’ve got somebody to fight.
Unknown voice: Whenever you’d get up to a place, you’d be battling the blues, Ike Turner or Muddy Waters or somebody like that, to see who’s come out on top? I want you to put on one of them shows tonight.
Unknown voice: Like he said, he ain’t got no competition here.
Howlin’ Wolf: No competition, man.
Unknown voice: Just pretend you got some competition. What can we do to make you imagine?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh, no.
Speaker : We’ll moan a little.
Howlin’ Wolf: I’ll do that, but yet and still, I have to have competition if you want me to dig the stuff up.
Unknown voice: You know that song you put out, Howlin’ For My Darling?
Howlin’ Wolf: Mm-hmm.
Unknown voice: You went to St. Louis and shot everybody down there in that. They was going for a competition at who was the best?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well you see, I leave it to the people to call. I’m kind of like the song. I’m the wolf. When I drop my tail on the ground and swipe out my tracks, no other wolf can go along then.
Unknown voice: Just like Old Little Milton. Little Milton was that …
Howlin’ Wolf: These young cats don’t fool with the old man, you know? They all respects me.
Unknown voice: Even Little Milton?
Howlin’ Wolf: That’s right.
Unknown voice: He was out here. He didn’t do nothing.
Howlin’ Wolf: Right. You take all these singers out here. You respect me. You might ask them, How you like the Wolf? I don’t like him. Well I know how come you don’t like him. It’s a competition when you get to fool with me.
Unknown voice: Did you ever play with B.B. King?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, a wonderful guy. Got a nice personality.
Unknown voice: B.B. just left here about four weeks ago.
Howlin’ Wolf: Really?
Unknown voice: Yeah.
Howlin’ Wolf: He’s a nice person.
Chris: Where did the Bihari Brothers first hear you when they cut those records?
Howlin’ Wolf: Who? Come out from Belvedere?
Chris: Bihari the fellow who came out from …
Howlin’ Wolf: They came from there. All this stuff was done by Ike Turner. He was a quick thinker. He had a lot of irons and connections. Well you see, what happened are Ike had me to cut this record for RPM first, “Riding in the Moonlight.” The same sound that Junior Parker singing about “Oh Baby, Come On”? That was my title, you know? I just didn’t give him no trouble about it. He give that record to RMP and then he turned around and cut one with Sun label. At that time Sun label was in with Chess. Chess was back and Sun label was this guy in Memphis.
Chris: Yeah, they would buy the masters from him.
Howlin’ Wolf: Mm-hmm.
Chris: Where did you record those first things? Were they in a garage?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, in Memphis.
Chris: Was the studio there?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes. On the Sun label.
Unknown voice: Both of them were on the Sun label?
Howlin’ Wolf: Mm-hmm.
Unknown voice: What about Smoke? Smokestack Lightning. That had a while record.
Howlin’ Wolf: After that, I uh, they put both of them records out together and they was butting one another. So Chess, he beat RPM to me, and put me under contract. Like the ball team, a contract with RPM.
Unknown voice: Go ahead.
Chris: A lot of people like that song called “Dust My Broom”, but I bet you half these kids don’t know what it means. I remember you told me once in Europe. Why don’t you tell them what that …
Howlin’ Wolf: Hmm.
Unknown voice: That was Elmore James singing that, wasn’t it, Wolf?
Howlin’ Wolf: We all used to play and sing together. Elmore could play my numbers, I could play his. I can play all of them cats’ number.
Chris: What are they talking about when they’re talking about Dusting My Broom?
Howlin’ Wolf: Get up in the morning if the woman don’t do right, and find me another place to go.
Unknown voice: Go ahead, Wolf.
Howlin’ Wolf: You ain’t gonna treat me right, I just give you my house and you just take who you in love with and live there and leave me alone. That’s right. That’s what I mean by “get up in the morning and dust my broom.”
Unknown voice: Tell me, Wolf. Does Elmore put out this song right before he passed away, “The Sky is Crying” ?
Howlin’ Wolf: Mm-hmm.
Unknown voice: What did he mean by that?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well nothing about it, that’s just the way he felt.
Unknown voice: That’s just the way he felt.
Howlin’ Wolf: People don’t mean nothing about the song they sing. It’s just the way if they play music and they want to sing, the first thing come to their mind, that’s what they sing.
Unknown voice: Are you living in Chicago now?
Howlin’ Wolf: Hmm?
Unknown voice: Are you living in Chicago now? Is that your home?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, I done bought a home there. I paid $23,000 for it. Modern style. I might just give it to my daughter.
Chris: Are you going to move back?
Howlin’ Wolf: I want to go where I can and fish and hunt and run rabbits.
Chris: Yeah. That sort of stays with you when you’re born and raised in the country. I think that stays with you.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. I like to be where I can hunt and fish, run rabbits, coons, wildcats, bobcats, anything.
Unknown voice: You seem pretty easy going. You don’t on stage so much. You’re all energy there.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah.
Chris: Do you think part of that is because that music comes to you natural? You were born and raised with it?
Howlin’ Wolf: I was born and raised with these things, ups and downs. Ups and downs been with every man, every woman, in life. The people all about the blues. The blues is nothing but, if you’re dissatisfied and you don’t have the things you want and have no money, no place to stay, and you’re loafing and going from place to place. You’re looking for something and you don’t know what it is until you find it, you know? Conditions. I see a lot of people walking the road, they got conditions. White or Negro, they got conditions. See, that’s what the blues come from.
See, the blues is a thing that will make you sing. You sing the way you feel. If you’ve been misled, you sing it that way. Just like some cowboys on the range. He sang the way he feel. If he said, little doggie, little doggie, that’s the way he feel. He feel like he’s a little doggie. That’s the way he feel, you know what I mean? You sing the way you feel.
Some people sing but they don’t put no touch into it. I think a lot of group singers, a lot of musicians, they sing but they don’t put no touch to it. If you’re going to go out there, you’ve got to put some touch to it. If you don’t put no touch to it, you just as well stay at home, you know what I mean? Not hang out.
Unknown voice: You remember the song you sung with Shindig right before you went to Europe? What’s the name of that song? It’s an old song.
Howlin’ Wolf: The words, I mixed them up.
Unknown voice: I like that song.
Howlin’ Wolf: It’s good, it’s got a good taste to it.
Unknown voice: Yeah, you’ve got to work on that.
Unknown voice: See, you got that from Sonny Boy.
Howlin’ Wolf: Part of it.
Unknown voice: The original Sonny Boy.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah.
Unknown voice: Actually before you went to England, that was the song that you put on that good show, on Shindig, before Shindig went off the air.
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, I wanted to put on something else, but everybody enquired for me to sing that.
Unknown voice: I enjoyed it, you singing that.
Howlin’ Wolf: In doing things, you have to do as you was told. You don’t do what you think you should do. If they want you to do something and they tell you what they want you to do, then if you want your money … I’m a man who does thing people tell me to do. I don’t do what I want to do. That ain’t where it’s at. You do as you was told.
That’s why I made it as far as I am today, because I do as I was told. They tell me something, I don’t try to tell them nothing, because they paying me. I’m going to do as they say.
Unknown voice: Right.
Howlin’ Wolf: … don’t get to be here. You get a great big head. Excuse me. Don’t let nobody tell you nothing and you know more than anybody else, they going to knock the props out from under you. You’re going to come on back down.
Unknown voice: When I first get to listen to, you know they used to wind the old record players up, and my father had the Wolf records.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, I write some, and then I buy some from different people. If it’s any meanings to the words. You get a writer’s portion.
Unknown voice: What is Willie Dixon doing? Is he still writing a lot of music?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, he’s writing a lot of music. Dixon’s a very nice person. But as far as I’m concerned, to my opinion, from now on out, I’ll do them myself because some things they give me, I just don’t like them. Willie, he’s a nice person but stuff he trying to dish out to me now, I wouldn’t even try to sing it, because it don’t have no meanings to it, as far as I’m concerned.
Chris: Did you ever meet Tommy Johnson, that guy who put out The Big Road Blues and all of that?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I met Lonnie Johnson. I didn’t meet Tommy Johnson.
Unknown voice: How about Robert Johnson?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh I met him. We all just run around together.
Chris: Hey Wolf, have you heard of this disc jockey out here who calls himself The Wolfman Jack? He tries to sound like you?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I haven’t heard of him.
Unknown voice: He sounds like you and Moms Mabley.
Unknown voice: Exactly, except he’s white. He’s very strange.
Unknown voice: Yeah, he is. He’s out in L.A.
Unknown voice: I’d say. Wolf, we’ll just get the names of the guys in the band again, and we’ll make sure we have it on there.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. On the bass player, his name is Andrew McMahon. His home is in Louisiana. Delhigh, Louisiana. That’s Castel Burrows. His home is in Memphis, Tennessee. The drummer. The pianist, Willie Mabon. His home is in Memphis, Tennessee. Hubert Sumlin, lead guitar player. He’s born and raised around Greenwood, Mississippi. I come into possession of him, he was in Hughes, Arkansas, ’52.
Unknown voice: How long has Willie been playing with you?
Howlin’ Wolf: Willie been with me about a little better than two months. I want to get him on some good records. He’s got a whole lot of talents.
Unknown voice: Are you planning to do a session pretty soon?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, if I can find some……..
Chris: Somebody said Chess was going to make an album at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Howlin’ Wolf: Hmm?
Chris: Did old man Chess make a record of you at the Fillmore Auditorium here?
Howlin’ Wolf: I don’t know nothing about that. I don’t know about that. I ain’t even saw nobody from that. Of course it may have been done. They have this guy to do it and send him the tape.
Unknown voice: Where do you usually record when you make the records? In Chicago?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, we got a place.
Unknown voice: Is it Chess Studios? Is that a pretty good place to work?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes. They treats me all right. You know, everybody you work for, they’re going to take a little from you. You ain’t never seen nobody start nothing that if you’re standing, you’re going to get cut. You break and go to run, they’re going to shoot you. I’ve been with them so long, but I gets what I want. If I want me 5 or $6,000 I go down there and get it. Nobody talks to me.
Unknown voice: What’s the name of the song……..
Howlin’ Wolf: I don’t try to be bad about it, I just go down there and ask them for some money. Cause he got it.
Howlin’ Wolf: Me and Muddy Water and Little Walter made the man, you know?
Chris: Yeah, it’s true. You started off with that.
Howlin’ Wolf: We’ll be with him when the deal’s going down, as long as we want to.
Unknown voice: Did you ever work with Little Walter?
Howlin’ Wolf: I worked with him once or twice when he first was hot, in Memphis, Tennessee. I worked with him last year up in Milwaukee.
Unknown voice: He never showed up. I was there. He never came.
Howlin’ Wolf: He did come.
Unknown voice: Right about five minutes before the last thing was over.
Howlin’ Wolf: He did, he did come. But you see, Walter drank so much of this here, ‘till it just make him late. I don’t know why he drank so much of this here. I drank some of it too, but I’ll never be late.
Unknown voice: I know Walter had put on some good shows at …….
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh yes, wonderful. If you can get him to do it.
Unknown voice: Can he still play?
Howlin’ Wolf: Well, I haven’t heard Walter play now in about two years. Well about since last year. About two years.
Unknown voice: Has he ever worked with Muddy in the last five to ten years?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes, he’s worked with Muddy. In fact he’s been…….., he should go back to Muddy.
Unknown voice: You think so? You think he’d ever do it?
Howlin’ Wolf: If it was me, I’d go back and get my old band that I had when I first started out.
Unknown voice: You think he could still put it together?
Howlin’ Wolf: If he could, he’d still be Muddy Water again. These young cats they got now, they play too fast for that old man. You understand? It’s just a shame.
Unknown voice: Maybe he would like to put together his old band.
Howlin’ Wolf: I’ll tell you, some people get carried away. They won’t stick with one another. ……make some money in one another. After a while they go looking over this way and that away, and finally he think he better than he is. He think he better than he is. ……. And then ain’t nobody making no money. Everybody loafing then. He once had a good band, but somehow or another, something got amongst them and they broke up.
Chris: You ever hear Charlie Patton do that when he was … ?
Howlin’ Wolf: No. I hear them do Little Red Rooster. Pony Blues. Back Water Rising, and uh, Spoonful.
Unknown voice: What about Down in the Bottom?
Howlin’ Wolf: Little Red Rooster sang that.
Unknown voice: You know you sung Down in the Bottom. Now what about that?
Howlin’ Wolf: What about it? I don’t know what about it?
Unknown voice: “Who’s Been Talking”
Howlin’ Wolf: Who’s Been Talking? Well I made that one. That’s one of mine.
Unknown voice: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Howlin’ Wolf: Who’s been telling everything I do? Somebody running my business.
Chris: When you were still playing in the streets as a kind of one man, did you ever make up songs about people in the town?
Howlin’ Wolf: No. I just only sung …
Chris: Did you ever hear songs like that?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yes I love songs like that, but I never make up songs like that. I always make up songs about the way people live and how people act amongst themselves. Ups and downs they have. Some people have ups and downs, and what caused these things. A lot of people come out and sing but they don’t never put their sweetening into it. You’ve got to tell the peoples why you’re singing this, and what causing this, and showing them what you’re singing.
A lot of people just get up to the mic, and do the song Rabbit on the Log. Well Rabbit on the Log, what did it do on the log? That it started up on the log? You’ve got to make your story clear to the peoples if you want to hand it to them.
If you’re just up there, “Baby, baby, baby, baby.” Everybody can say baby. I can say baby any time I get ready. I go home and call my wife baby. “Come here, baby.” You’ve got to make a story now and make it stick. You’ve got to tell people just like it is. How things go. You’ve got to make everything, every word tailored. Every word fits.
Chris: You don’t remember any of those songs that they sang about somebody in the town?
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I don’t know nothing about them songs they were singing, somebody in the town. There’s always somebody in the town. Who is in the town? Somebody’s in there, well who is in the town? If you’re seeing somebody in the town, you’ve got to tell why they’re in the town and what caused them to be there in the town. What did this come from to make this person come to town? You can start a theory, but if you can’t master your words, why you just forget it. Because you ain’t got no, uh, you have nothing there for you to back up on, to make no background, make no sense to it. You sing songs today, you’ve got to have some sense to it. A touch off. Do that. You see when I do that, some gas and then the house been gone, boom. That’s the touch off. You’ve got to have some touch off in this stuff.
Unknown voice: I love this song.
Howlin’ Wolf: I love it. I’m going, when I get back to the airport Monday, I’ll spend about five hours with my wife and kids. I’ll leave on Monday morning early. My first day will be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That’s the 26th.
Chris: Wow. Where do you play there? Do you play across the river in one of them big dance halls?
Howlin’ Wolf: I don’t know. I’ve never been there, in Baton Rouge, and played before. I’m going to leave Baton Rouge and I’m coming back to Memphis the next night. The next night I go to Columbus, Georgia. The next night I go to Tallahassee, Florida. The next night I’ll be in Hollandale, Florida. Then I’ll come out going home. I’ve got about five days or six days out there in the last month of this week. In the last of this month.
Unknown voice: Do you work most of the year round?
Howlin’ Wolf: All the time. I work seven nights a week. I’ve been doing it ever since ‘53.
Unknown voice: That was book an agent.
Howlin’ Wolf: Associated. Same people that booked Armstrong books me. Associated .A lot of people call it New York Attractions, but it’s Associated. ABC.
Unknown voice: I was looking for you going to a jazz workshop.
Unknown voice: Where do you like going to the best?
Howlin’ Wolf: Anywhere. I don’t have no pick-and-choose. If anybody want me to sing, “Spoonful, Spoonful!” I’m right there. Don’t worry about a thing! No, I don’t go around picking no place to play. I go around and play where the people want me to play. I let the peoples handle me. I don’t tell the peoples what to do.
Unknown voice: You know the best thing I like to hear you sing yet?
Howlin’ Wolf: What?
Unknown voice: Good and Easy.
Howlin’ Wolf: I’ll go anywhere they want me to. If they want me on an island, I’ll tell them they got a boat where I can get out there, I’ll be out there.
Unknown voice: I like to hear you sing “In The Moonlight” because it look like you just bring everything out there.
Howlin’ Wolf: You let the peoples carry you, because they made you.
Unknown voice: You’ve got a lot of fans.
Howlin’ Wolf: Thank you. I always let the peoples carry me because they made me. I got time to talk with them. I was born on earth and I stay on earth. I don’t ever get up … When I go up in space, I’m going to get me a Sputnik and I won’t talk to nobody then because I’ll be in space. But as long as I’m on earth, I’ll be with my people. As soon as they take me to space, I won’t talk to anybody any more. I’ll be gone and you’ll be down here.
Chris: You get more fired up in front of a Negro audience than you do in front of a white?
Howlin’ Wolf: Get more what?
Chris: Do you get more fired up.
Howlin’ Wolf: I get fired up anywhere that I play. I don’t get shame on nobody. I don’t, because the fact has been, when I started to playing I started with a bunch of white boys. They liked-ed the blues and I liked-ed the blues and we’d make whiskey. The police would run us all through the woods. I’d be cooking and maybe picking the box. They’d get tired of picking the box, I’d pick and they’d cook awhile. Every once in a while, we’d take one of them cups and stick it under that spout and, ha!
All the peoples I really have dealt with was a bunch of bad white boys. They was bad and I was bad. We stayed in devilment! When they put them in jail, they put me in jail, they put them in jail, too. We was just together. We was a bunch of rats, you know? They all held up for me. They liked-ed me, you know? If you want to have trouble, don’t bother me. Lock me up there and locked them up, too.
They finished sending me to school. On account of those boys liked me so well. We all just liked us as brothers. We never did do nobody no harm. We didn’t do one another no harm. I don’t know. Sooner or later we got busted up some kind of way.
Chris: Did your father play too? Did he sing?
Howlin’ Wolf: No my father was a craphouse man. Shoot dice and running women. I never did like that kind of carrying on. I wanted to do something. I made a lot of whiskey. I never did gamble.
Chris: You probably saw too much of it losing.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I see too many peoples get hurt in the gambling. I see a lot of people gambling and you can lose that hard money and you turn out to be a desperado, you know what I mean? I said that wasn’t no job for me. Gambling is no good for a man. When you’re gambling, that’s when you’re mean, when you’re gambling and lose a lot of money. That’s right.
Unknown voice: Did you ever play around Paducah?
Howlin’ Wolf: Paducah, Kentucky?
Unknown voice: Yeah, anywhere around through there.
Howlin’ Wolf: No, I played in Cairo once or twice, but I never was in Paducah.
Unknown voice: You think any blues was ever played around through there?
Howlin’ Wolf: I don’t know, I don’t know. Of course I go through there when I’m going South sometimes. Different places. I never have played there. The furthest I played is Cairo and Carbondale, Illinois, and all around St. Louis. Of course there’s lots of places though the country I’ve never been. I’ve never been in Omaha. I was in Kansas City once or twice.
When I get up there, I work all the way through. I don’t sit down there and hold some woman’s hand and jive some woman. I come to satisfy the people. Do the best that I can. I didn’t come to get drunk. I drink, but you don’t catch me. I stay right entertainin’.
Chris: Is this your first trip out to California? Or were you out here when you were making the record?
Howlin’ Wolf: I was down here in World War II, at Rice, California. Indio. I didn’t come back until they got me to come down here on that film.
Chris: You didn’t come out there when “How Many More Days” went pretty big?
Howlin’ Wolf: No. The peoples wanted me but the promoters blocked me. Chess and them sent Muddy Waters and them out here at that time. Muddy would come all over this country. I was trying to beg the people to give me a lift, but somehow or another somebody was blocking me. They couldn’t make no money. As I say, I couldn’t afford to come out here for small peanuts. I’m not smart, but it cost me 1,125 dollars to bring these peoples out here on the plane. That’s too hard for me to drive with ……… way out here.
Howlin’ Wolf: This trip. Then the man, I charge the man $3,500 and when I get through I’ll end up making about $800. Now you take these mens, I have to give them $150 a week, and I have to feed them. I have to sleep them. That comes out of my pocket.
Unknown voice: You couldn’t get a date in L.A. on this trip?
Howlin’ Wolf: Hm?
Unknown voice: You couldn’t get a date in Los Angeles on this trip?
Howlin’ Wolf: Oh, maybe so, but I can’t. I got another week.
Unknown voice: You’re already booked up.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, they have to get me back somewhere. In June the 10th, I’ll be in The White House, playing in Washington.
Unknown voice: Is that right? You’re playing The White House.
Unknown voice: Just like, what was that ball you played for President Kennedy?
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah, a festival for his wife.
Unknown voice: How was that? What was it like to play for him?
Howlin’ Wolf: It was wonderful. Those people act just like you act.
Unknown voice: Yeah, they’re people after all.
Howlin’ Wolf: They’re people. If they want to hear the blues, that’s nothing wrong, there’s no harm there.
Unknown voice: That’s great. I felt like, it’s finally happening.
Howlin’ Wolf: You see them going into the White House lawn this time.
Unknown voice: They has a special section in the basement.
Howlin’ Wolf: That’s for the big folks. Ain’t no little peoples going to be found around there. That’s the tenth of June.
Unknown voice: … The Mighty Wolf plays for President Kennedy.
Howlin’ Wolf: Yeah. All over the country they tried to block me from down this way. The peoples know I’m a good artist and they tried their best to try to bock me out of this area. It’s too bad. Now I done hit this area I’m going to make it hard for all the blues singers.