Anniversary of Howlin' Wolf's Death

(Gibson) On this day in 1976, blues artist Howlin' Wolf (a.k.a. Chester Burnett) died of cancer, aged 66. The guitarist, singer and harmonica player's songs included "Smoke Stack Lightning," "Little Red Rooster" and "Spoonful." Gibson takes a look back:

Howlin' Wolf was, quite possibly, the most intimidating artist ever to take the stage. Standing 6'6" tall and tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, the Wolf was a massive presence, made even more fearsome by a thunderous, broken-glass voice. As bluesman John Shines once observed, "I was afraid of the Wolf, like you would be of some wild animal." And yet this giant of a man came from the most humble beginnings.

Chester Arthur Burnett (named after the president) was born on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi. He was the son of a farmer, Leon "Dock" Burnett, and a stern, religious mother, Gertrude Jones. Gertrude's father gave young Chester the nickname "Howlin' Wolf," telling him stories about how the wolves would get him if he misbehaved. His parents split when he was young and Chester lived with his mother until she left him with a cruel, abusive uncle. At the age of 13, he ran away from his uncle to find his father on a plantation near Ruleville, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

Chester spent the rest of his youth in the stable and loving home of his father's new family. He brought with him, besides a king-sized appetite, a love of music. He had sung in the choir at the church where his uncle preached. His mother sang gospel music, as well, for pennies on street corners. Growing up in the Delta, Chester listened to and got to know many of the men who are now blues legends. After his father bought him a guitar when he was 17, Wolf convinced Charlie Patton to give him lessons. He learned the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson II, who had a thing for Chester's stepsister. When he wasn't working on his father's farm, he travelled with the likes of Williamson, Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House and Willie Brown. more on this story

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