Elsewhere by Graham Reid

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Wide angle reviews, interviews and opinion by writer Graham Reid

Howlin' Wolf: The Howlin' Wolf Album (Set on Down)

Howlin' Wolf: The Red Rooster
Howlin' Wolf: The Howlin' Wolf Album (Set on Down)

One of the assertions on the cover of this album – released in 69, reissued after a long absence – isn't true. Bluesman Howlin' Wolf had been an “early adopter” of electric guitar.

What is true is he didn't care for this album (“dog shit” was his considered judgment) which had him being made over in line with the post-Hendrix psychedelic music of the time with wah-wah from guitarist Pete Cosey (soon to join Miles' Davis fusion outfit) splattered over his raw blues. And fluttery jazz-styled flute, of all things.

Chess Records had previously put Muddy Waters together with Cosey and others for the partially successful but mostly awful “psychedelic blues” album Electric Mud.

But for Wolf – almost 60, grumpy and in a dry spell after a series of classic and influential singles at the start of the decade -- this was an odd concept, especially when he was covering his important songs (the recent Spoonful, Back Door Man, Red Rooster and earlier Smokestack Lightning which had been covered by the likes of the young Stones, Van Morrison, Cream and many others) in a way which detracted from their earthiness.

Wolf's sandpaper'n'whisky vocals didn't sit with mind expanding guitars, like taking moonshine to a love-in.

The moody and spare Evil and Moanin' at Midnight might be the best things, but that isn't saying much – and while we might wish this had improved with age that isn't true either.

Interested in more about the real earthy blues? Then try this, despite the title it is surprisingly interesting.

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Tags: chicago blueseric claptonbuddy guymuddy waterselmore jamesfrom the vaultschess recordsblues in elsewherealligator records