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Howlin' Wolf

• DVD directed by Don McGlynn

Had me on the edge of my seat for the full 90 minutes. Unbelievable!

Attention any and all fans of the blues, because this is what you're looking for.
It opens up with Wolf's only national TV appearance, on the music show Shindig (!) in 1965. The Rolling Stones were featured, and insisted that Howlin Wolf appear on the same show. Wolf is absolutely electric in the midst of all these white teenagers clapping their hands and chewing gum on the stairs of the show's set, and the way he's shaking his finger at the camera and then shakin the hell out of his booty is like nothing I've ever seen a man do, much less the huge man that Chester Burnett was. The Shindig clip alone is priceless, more than worth the price of admission, but it's just the beginning.

Then Son House comes on, clapping his hands and singing an a capella version of "John the Revelator," somebody help me.

Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist whom he treated like a son, said of his mentor: "If you say something to him, you better be right, and you better say it right to him, you know what I'm talking about? He might just walk off, and say, 'Hey man, it was nice knowing ya...'" to which Hubert's longtime wife, Evelyn Sumlin Goodwin, added: "He just didn't take any mess."

Wolf's fierce mastery of the stage is a thing of legend, but people very close to him talk about his persona offstage as being laid back, more straight laced. He was a consummate showman who was very conscious of people putting down their hard earned money to see the show, and he would undergo a radical transformation, becoming a wide-eyed beast stalking the stage and getting up on the bar come showtime.

Details of the bluesman's difficult childhood and reunion with his father come to light, and how he learns his first guitar from the delta legend Charley Patton, and he recounts the day his dad bought him his first guitar, fifteenth of January 1928. There is some narration by his biographer or by Marshall Chess, but much of the story is told by the Wolf himself, which is mesmerizing. And so much of the story is unique in the blues, what a smart businessman he was (getting the sponsors himself for his early radio shows, for instance), how well he treated the band, and how he was "the onliest one to drive his own car out of the Delta to Chicago with four thousand dollars in his pocket," quite a fortune at the time.

The rivalry with Muddy Waters, the first records Wolf cut with Sam Phillips (the Memphis genius who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and many others and called Howlin' Wolf his greatest discovery!), his devotion to his lifelong wife, there is just so much good material and tons of good live footage. Director Don McGlynn has brought us a document of inestimable value, and kudos to The Bluebird company for launching their video series with "The Authorized Life and Times of Chester Burnett--the Howlin' Wolf." Check out bluebirdjazz.com for info on the CD series "When the Sun Goes Down--The Secret History of Rock & Roll."

This outrageous DVD retails for twenty bucks, and it was on sale at the Nashville Tower Records. It was the best fifteen bucks I spent in years. Get it. • FG

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