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Moanin' at Midnight


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This fluid, fascinating and thoroughly researched biography is a long overdue tribute to one of the two giants of post-WWII Chicago-style electric blues music. Music writers Segrest and Hoffman do a superb job of capturing the many facets of Wolf's long career, making it a worthy companion to Robert Gordon's recent book on the other Chicago blues giant, Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. But while Waters was controlled and sexy, Segrest and Hoffman show, in contrast, how Wolf was ferocious, angry and unpredictable, a large man with a powerful, raspy voice and a keen intelligence. Born Chester Burnett in Mississippi in 1910, Wolf, as the authors show, endured "crushing poverty" and almost constant physical abuse, the source of much of the anger in his music. The authors nicely detail the important musicians who influenced Wolf, from Charlie Patton, the acknowledged master of country blues who taught Wolf to play the guitar, to Reggie Boyd, the brilliant but obscure guitar teacher who encouraged Wolf's desire to expand his already enormous musical vision. Best of all, the authors wonderfully describe Wolf's inimitable style on the many recordings he made in Chicago for Chess Records, such as "Smokestack Lightnin," Wolf's masterpiece: "Over a hypnotic guitar figure and a driving rhythm that subtly accelerates like a locomotive, Wolf sang a field holler vocal, interspersed with falsetto howls like a dread lupine beast just down the road at midnight." Agent, Sandra Choron. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Essential reading . . . This generation's first and probably last full portrait of one of the giants of American music."--The New York Times Book Review

Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-1976)-better known as Howlin' Wolf-started singing and playing guitar and harmonica throughout the Mississippi Delta after a chance meeting with blues legend Charley Patton. Though he started as an imitator of that master in the 1930s, the Wolf went on to usher in the electric blues scene in 1950s Chicago with a gravelly voice and a down-and-dirty stage presence all his own. In this first full-length biography, historian Segrest and musician-writer Hoffman put the Wolf in his rightful place alongside his more celebrated contemporaries (e.g., Muddy Waters), detailing their subject's life, performance style, recordings, and pervasive influence on American and British blues and rock musicians. Especially interesting-and bound to be controversial-is the well-supported discussion of the Wolf's relationship to fellow bluesman Willie Dixon, who was given sole credit for writing songs either written or co-written by the Wolf himself. This readable, high-quality work is made all the more valuable by the continuing popularity of blues music and the Wolf's lasting influence. Highly recommended for all public and university libraries.-James E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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