Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

Watch the remarkable moment Howlin' Wolf performed in the UK for the first time

Howlin’ Wolf was one in a million. Yes, Howlin’ Wolf was one in a million. And when he arrived to the United Kingdom, he won over the hearts of millions, yes millions. He played with great purpose, persuasion and presence, hitting every note with great sustain, celebrating the vibrancy and vitality of the instrument through a series of blinding licks, each one more yearning and fervent than the one that came before it.

He was a guitarist of attack, engineering and ingenuity, expertly positioning guitar hooks on top of each other in an effort to create a more vibrant form of exercise, both as a musician and a man of great precision. And when he played, he let the guitar roar out, creating a more immediate sound that could only have bellowed from a place of great urgency, feeling and stability.

He was by any definition of the word an immense talent, inspiring great loyalty from his fans and listeners. “Wolf was one of the greatest performers of the 20th Century,” Seattle musician Mark Hoffman recalled, “And he was a profound influence on later musicians. In many ways, he was the first rock star. When I started thinking about this in the early 1990s, I thought it was ridiculous that no one had written a full-length book about Wolf or Muddy or Little Walter or Sonny Boy or any of the other giants of the blues. But it was curiosity more than altruism that drove me—curiosity and ego. Curiosity because I just wanted to know what Wolf was like as a person and as a performer.”

From the bottom clip, the guitarist was more than capable of entertaining a crowd, both as a musician, and a towering giant of live music and vitality. “You know I used to have a radio show,” he purred in an interview with The Guardian. “That’s how I started foolin’ around with recording. With my brother-in-law [Sonny Boy Williamson].” And when he arrived in England in the 1960s, he brought swagger, stealth and a singular ability to rock out on guitar.

In what is believed to be the only known filmed version of ‘Smokestack Lightning’, the guitarist channelled the energy to deliver a pulsating, even punk-like style of performance. It’s done on a stage set that was cemented by the musician’s appetite for glory and generous use of guitar arpeggios. Indeed, the style was one to which the world gravitated, steady in its position to create something more animal and agitated.

Through the bellowing amps and frenzied rush, the guitarist created something that was more angular in its direction than the more herculean guitar hooks that made up the blues contingent at the time. And in his own instinctive way, he was becoming something of a legend, creating a new sense of passion and persuasion as a one-time guitarist, looking for something more apposite to put in his own direction. Enough words: This guy knew how to play, and his legacy will live on, and on, and on.