Music

Rocking Chair Blues: Howlin' Wolf - “Howlin’ for My Baby"

“Howlin’ for My Baby” is the most joyful number on Rocking Chair: Its exuberance and humor are irresistible.

After the midnight creeping of “Back Door Man", with Howlin' Wolf as the sexual adventurer who thrills other men's women and slips away before the break of dawn, Wolf--as if he's forsaken his wicked ways--celebrates the joys of what we'd today call a “committed relationship". The restless Wolf has found himself a “pretty baby", and now he's howling just for her.


“Howlin' for My Baby", also known as “Howlin' for My Darlin'", is the most joyful number on Rocking Chair. Its exuberance and humor are irresistible; the darkness that was often at the heart of Wolf's lupine persona is nowhere to be heard. Wolf's howl raises shivers on his “Smokestack Lightnin'"; “Howlin' for My Baby" makes you laugh with delight. His baby just knocks him out, and he's gotta tell everybody: “Every time she kiss me / She makes the lights go out / Early in the morning / She makes me jump and shout / This mad love she got / Makes me laugh and cry/makes me really know / I'm too young to die / If you hear me howlin'/ Callin' on my darlin' / Oooh oooh ooowee!"

Wolf co-wrote “Howlin' for My Baby" with Willie Dixon, but according to the Wolf biography Moanin' at Midnight, producer Leonard Chess had a lot to do with the way it turned out. Chess directed Wolf and the band in the studio, giving drummer S.P. Leary the “da-da-da-da-da duh-da" accents that the musicians turned into “one of the most heavily syncopated dance grooves in blues history".

When Wolf cut the track in July 1959, he'd recently hooked up with Lillie Handley, who came from an Alabama farming family. Unlike Wolf, she was raised in a loving, middle-class home, and was educated. In 1945 she married a local farmer, Nate Jones, had a daughter with him, and then they separated. Jones died in 1952, and Lillie, an attractive young widow then living in Chicago, took up with the blues harp player and singer James Cotton. Wolf fell for her one night when he was playing a gig, and before long Cotton was out of the picture.

Howlin' Wolf married Lillie in 1964, and they remained together until his death 12 years later. In Moanin' at Midnight, Evelyn Sumlin, the wife of Wolf's lead guitarist Hubert, observes, “The years that Lillie and he was together, he got a chance to really enjoy his life and know what life was about". And that's what you hear in “Howlin' for My Baby"--a man who'd experienced poverty, parental abuse, and racism, in the Deep South and elsewhere, had finally found his joy.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image