The Mighty Howlin’ Wolf Takes the Stage

Posted on October 20, 2008

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Where was Wolf?  Suddenly he sprang out onto the stage from the wings.  He was a huge hulk of a man, but he advanced across the stage in sudden bursts of speed, his head pivoting from side to side, eyes huge and white, eyeballs rotating wildly.

He seemed to be having an epileptic seizure, but no, he suddenly lunged for the microphone, blew a chorus of raw, heavily rhythmic harmonica, and began moaning.  He had the hugest voice I had ever heard — it seemed to fill the hall and get right inside your ears, and when he hummed and moaned in falsetto, every hair on your neck crackled with electricity.

The thirty minute set went by like an express train, with Wolf switching from harp to guitar (which he played while rolling around on his back and, at one point, doing somersaults) and then leaping up to prowl the lip of the stage.  He was the Mighty Wolf, no doubt about it.  Finally, an impatient signal from the wings let him know his portion of the show was over.  Defiantly, Wolf counted off a bone-crushing rocker, began singing rhythmically, feigned an exit, and suddenly made a flying leap for the curtain at the side of the stage.

Holding the microphone under his beefy right arm and singing into it all the while, he began climbing up the curtain, going higher and higher until he was perched far above the stage, the thick curtain threatening to rip, the audience screaming with delight.  Then he loosened his grip and, in a single easy motion, slid right back down the curtain, hit the stage, cut off the tune, and stalked away, to the most ecstatic cheers of the evening.  He was then fifty-five years old.

Robert Palmer, Deep Blues, 1982, Penguin Books, Markham, Ontario, p. 233.

Posted in: music