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Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf Hardcover – June 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422461
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Billed as the first full-length biography of Howlin' Wolf, the strapping (six-foot-three and 300 pounds) bluesman with the lyrical growl, this engrossing study is a must-have for blues-concerned collections and, indeed, a worthy acquisition for any pop music collection. The Wolf (Chester Burnett offstage) stands with Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker among the giants in the blues pantheon. A student of Charlie Patton and the first Sonny Boy Williamson, he rose from the poor sharecropper's life that was pretty much obligatory for blacks in Mississippi's Delta region to stardom in first Memphis and then Chicago. He helped define the blues sound that many of the English-invasion rock bands of the 1960s based their styles on. A worthy shelf mate for Robert Gordon's Muddy Waters biography, Can't Be Satisfied (2002), Segrest and Hoffman's book is a distinctive survey of the Wolf's life and career and a valuable blues history resource in general by virtue of its limning of many of the Wolf's fellow bluesmen--Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and others. Down-home, gritty, and comprehensive. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

I felt like I was there.
Keith Mathews
The book is well written and is easy to read, with many bluesmen telling about their encounters with 'The Wolf'.
Alan Beggerow
If you can find it, get the video, it is a great companion to this wonderful book.
M. Jourard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By J. Jaisun on June 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was sitting with Hubert Sumlin in the Green Room of Jazz Alley last week, when Mark Hoffman peeked through the doorway. The customary mischievous twinkle in his eye was augmented by an excited sense of urgency. In his hands he held a book; not just any book, but one he had written himself. This particular copy was a gift for Hubert, because Hubert had provided a critical link in the book's research. How could anyone write the definitive biography of Howlin' Wolf without consulting the man who'd been Wolf's guitarist for 25 years?
Hubert grinned, Mark bubbled with appreciation. Crisp new pages and a freshly-pressed sepia close-up of a cigarette-puffing Howlin' Wolf on the cover. Someone set the finished product down on the table; that's when I grabbed it and started leafing through. It was impossible to resist.
Moanin' at Midnight, The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf, finally gives the blues world back its missing link. When Howlin' Wolf left this earth in January 1976, he took with him his stories, his imposing presence and his immensely powerful voice. Fortunately, he left behind his recordings, which, for a generation now, are all we've had by which to remember him. Fortunately also, Wolf had many friends and associates who refused to let go of his memory, and were willing to share their recollections with co-authors Hoffman and James Segrest.
Throughout the book, Hoffman and Segrest use words like gargantuan, ferocious and primal to describe Wolf's persona. If you ever were lucky enough to see Wolf perform, you know why. But even the surviving videos are enough to get the point across. It was not only the man's size that was intimidating, it was the way he wrapped his huge and startling voice around a song.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By D. Sean Brickell on January 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One thing about music bios. When the subject is an artistic giant, they generally seem compelled to report "new" or "previously unknown" scandals to keep readers interested.

But not this book. The authors have dutifully and truly captured the unique essence of Howlin' Wolf. In short, it is not only the definitive bio of the artist and the man, but it might well rank as one of the best and most loving comprehensive studies of anyone in music.

After decades of listening to Wolf's music, and reading tons o' material about him, I approached this book with no small degree of caution. Would it be tawdry? Would it simply rehash facts? Be another potboiler?

Happily the book is a superlative effort, seemlessly meshing history with artistry.

Do yourself a favor. Read it and enjoy.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Alan Beggerow VINE VOICE on June 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For any fan of Howlin' Wolf, this book is a must. It sheds a lot of light on a man that was as complex as he was talented. Wolf learned his craft from blues legends, like Charley Patton, and took the blues he heard when he was a child and molded it into his own sound. With a voice that was truly unique and actually quite flexible, he put everything he had into a song.
It tells the heroic story of a man born in the south in the first decade of the 20th century amid grinding poverty, extreme racial prejudice, and an unhappy childhood, that found his freedom and his place in the world of the traveling blues man. His early life scarred him both physically and emotionally, and it can be heard in his music.
The musical structure of his music could be very simple sometimes, but he put so much heart, so much emotion into it that the music is never boring, never trite. His childhood and life were hard, but his music is not merely a reflection of hard times. It also can reflect the joy he took in his talent and sharing it with people. A totally unique performer and voice in all of music, not just the blues. And a truly unique man.
The book is well written and is easy to read, with many bluesmen telling about their encounters with 'The Wolf'.
Highly recommended!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. N. Owen on January 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book sets a new standard for music biographies, the authors have really done their research. Not only that, Chester almost jumps off the pages so well do they reveal a complex and private man. Descriptions of live performances and studio sessions are finely detailed, due to the numerous interviews the authors conducted with sidemen, producers, fans and family members. Good thing these writers started work on the book many years ago; a number of the interviewees have since died, making this the final word on working/living with the Wolf. Outstanding.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By tgfabthunderbird on April 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is without doubt, an excellent, well-researched and detailed account of the life of Howlin' Wolf. The life of the blues pioneer was one of hardship, sadness, and overcoming adversity, and the authors do a good job of conveying what the Wolf dealt with.

From his hardscrabble upbringing, an abusive and hypocritical father, and mother lost in psychological and religious madness, and just obstacle after obstacle, the Wolf endured, but sometimes I feel never achieved the full happiness he wanted. There's no doubt he loved his family, cared for his bandmates and did his best, but you could tell the sadness that the blues often heals might not have been enough.

There's a good examination here of Wolf's music, his influences and how he managed a signature sound as well as a performance style that blew nearly all the others away. All the same, Wolf was very protective of that sound, demanding of his mates and making sure they did it the way he wanted it done. Sometimes he was overbearing and arrogant, as witnessed by the defection of Hubert Sumlin to the Muddy Waters band. But Hubert later did return, and many would come in and out over the years.

The rift between Waters and Wolf is noted here; was there ever really one, beyond the professional rivalry? It does appear that Wolf saw Waters as a company man, in terms of his relationship with the Chess brothers. Wolf was very careful about his money, making sure the brothers paid him what he was due, while Waters was content to allow the brothers to get him a new car or a home now and then, perhaps a bit too trustful.

But in the end, it does seem they cared about each other and made up any differences near the end of their lives.
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