What happens when we take players and recording artists from the West Coast and Chicago, put them in one of the best recording studios in the world, and have them perform their interpretations of Howlin’ Wolf material? The result is the recent West Tone Records release, Howlin’ At Greaseland.
Howlin’ Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett in Mississippi in 1910. He moved up to Chicago and over the course of his career he upended music and turned it on its ear in Chicago, and around the world. His influence is still in play every day, three generations later. Sometimes described as scary, he was feared by some and worshiped by others. There had been no one like him. That gravelly, gritty voice, the intimidating stage presence he projected, and of course, his music ensured that his shows were like no other.
Howlin At Greaseland doesn’t try to better Wolf’s work, nor does it try to compete with it. The performances here are an enthusiastic homage to someone these artists all admire. The artists gathered to make this tribute music are a pretty impressive bunch in their own right. Producer, Greaseland studio owner and guitarist Kid Anderson is in the mix along with Rick Estrin, Johnny Cat, and Tail Dragger. Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Jim Pugh, Henry Gray, and Terry Hanck also join the fray with a host of others.
The recording by Kid Anderson and Robby Yamilov is uncluttered as is the production under the auspices of Executive Producer Stephanie Tice. The sound quality is excellent, and the mix provides the venue for each artist to shine in their own light.
High points for us included the short but very funny story of Terry Hanck’s father booking Howlin’ Wolf to play a gig in a shopping center. Riotous! We especially enjoyed “Smokestack Lightning” led by John Blues Boyd with Kid Anderson and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitars and Rick Estrin on the harp. Then there’s the joyous rambunctiousness of Terry Hanch and company’s completely turned out “Howlin’ On My Darlin,” which is brilliant.
Wolf’s piano player back in the day, Henry Gray along with Aki Kumar, Patrick Rynn, Chris James, and June Core team up for a gorgeous turn on the Big Maceo Merriweather standard “Worried Life Blues.” Another positively captivating performance is Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” presented here with only Gray on piano and vocals, and Kid Anderson on acoustic guitar. The album closes with another Willie Dixon penned classic, “Spoonful.” The players bring this to listeners as a deep, ’50s era Chicago supper club cut in all its unabashed glory.
Howlin At Greaseland offers a modern take on Howlin’ Wolf classics from the viewpoint of today’s premier West Coast and Chicago players. This album is well played, and well recorded. Best of all, Howlin At Greaseland is a whole lot of fun. Pick this up soon!
Howlin At Greaseland by Various Artists
Label: West Tone Records
Running Time: 46:00