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Runco's Weekly Music - Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightnin'

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Published on Jan 13, 2008

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Some say the blues was born on Dockery's farm

Dockery's farm was essentially a plantation in the Mississippi Delta region where some believe the blues was born. What we know as fact... is that many men went there to learn the blues.
Charley Patton, one of the most famous delta blues musicians of all time, grew up on the farm and was the most popular act in the area -- in fact, some say he was the most influential blues musician of all time. For one, he was the most popular Saturday night act in the Mississippi Delta region... playing songs (sometimes lasting more than 30 minutes) that people could relate to and dance to, all the while being quite the showman (often twisting and throwing his guitar in the air).
Perhaps more importantly though was his musical influence -- to name a few: he taught Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown (who in turn taught Robert Johnson -- who Muddy Waters learned the most from); Son House frequently played with Charley Patton in 1929 and learned from him (as well as from James McCoy and others)... and Howlin Wolf, one of the most popular Chicago bluesmen (and Muddy Water's chief competitor there during the fifties and sixties) moved to Dockery's farm in 1926 -- he states, "It was Patton who started me off playing. He took a liking to me, and I asked him would he learn me, and at night, after I'd get off work, I'd go and hang around." Wolf's first recording, titled 'Saddle My Pony,' was even a version of one of Patton's songs, 'Pony Blues.'

Wiki states the artist of this song, at the age of 13, walked 85 miles barefoot to escape an uncle who treated him badly (I believe that walk was to Dockery's Farm, or a nearby plantation). He learned from Patton, as well as the Mississippi Sheiks, Tommy Johnson -- another Patton student - and Jimmie Rogers. He is a guitar and harmonica player, and throughout his musical career -- unlike many other musicians of the time -- was always financially comfortable... primarily b/c he was able to resist alcohol, gambling, and 'loose women' (as they were referred to) which so many other blues musicians (including his teacher, Charley Patton) were unable to avoid. At the peak of his success he returned to his home town to see his mother again, but was driven to tears when she denied him and refused to take any money he offered her, saying it was from his playing 'Devil Music.'

- This weeks song charted for three weeks on the Billboard national R&B charts in 1956, peaking at #8.
- This weeks song has been covered by The Yardbirds, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, The Electric Prunes, Soundgarden, The Radiators, George Thorogood, Iron & Wine, the Grateful Dead, and The Who
- Rolling Stone Magazine (which I believe was named after Muddy Water's 1950 recording 'Rollin Stone'... which is also where the Rolling Stones band got their name) listed this weeks artist #51 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time -- Muddy Waters was #17, and Charley Patton didn't make the list...
- His voice has been compared to "the sound of heavy machinery operating on a gravel road"
- This weeks artist died in 1976, and his large gravestone, allegedly purchased by Eric Clapton, has an image of a guitar and a harmonica etched into it

This weeks song is titled Smokestack Lightnin' - and this weeks artist is Howlin Wolf... enjoy.

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