As the journey slowly moves forward to the music closest to my heart, a required stop is 1959’s “Moanin’ In The Moonlight”, by Chicago blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, a contemporary and blues rival of Muddy Waters. Like many of the other blues singers of this era, these performances shaped the sounds of the British blues bands to follow, to include The Yardbirds and their evolved state, Led Zeppelin.
“Moanin’ In The Moonlight” is the 477th rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of All Time, and it also is rated as the 8th greatest blues album of all time on digitaldreamdoors.com. It is a raw collection of singles and songs Howlin’ Wolf recorded throughout the 1950s. Although not quite as primitive in recording quality as earlier releases by Robert Johnson, it definitely has a rougher and less polished feel than most of the music being released at that time. Almost all of these songs are original compositions, and many have emerged again through other artists. “Smokestack Lightning”, perhaps his most well-known song, re-appeared in 1964 as Eric Clapton made his debut in The Yardbirds. “How Many Years” was a direct predecessor of “How Many More Times” by Led Zeppelin, just as “Killing Floor”, which is not on this album but also highly recognized as a Howlin’ Wolf classic, shapes the “The Lemon Song”, also released by Led Zeppelin. Howlin’ Wolf frequently collaborated with, or performed songs by Willie Dixon, perhaps the most prolific blues songwriter of their era.
It’s difficult to process how challenging life was for aspiring black musicians in the 1950s, but thankfully for Howlin’ Wolf, he was able to live until 1976, and through the 1960s and 1970s, was appropriately recognized for his influence and catalog, defining and impacting the world of blues and rock and roll forever. I’m grateful for his powerful voice, his intense delivery, and his authentic presentation of hard times through his music.