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."
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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 TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved