The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (Deluxe Edition)
Open iTunes to preview, buy, and download music.
Although The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions was not a high point in the careers of either Howlin' Wolf or the guest superstars Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Stevie Winwood, and Ringo Starr, it's not as bad as some blues purists make it out to be. This deluxe edition two-CD set pads out the original with an entire disc of previously unreleased alternate takes/alternate mixes (and three tracks from the same sessions that eventually showed up on the 1974 compilation London Revisited, which also included material by Muddy Waters). Fewer and fewer leftovers from the Chess catalog were available at the beginning of the 21st century, so here this is, bolstered by lengthy and entertaining liner notes spotlighting memories from producer Norman Dayron. The original album, presented here in its original mix, was adequate but flawed. The alternate versions really aren't all that different from the ones selected for the album, and some, in fact, are just alternate mixes. There are, however, some occasional notable differences, like "What a Woman!" with an organ overdub,"Poor Boy" with different lyrics, "The Red Rooster" with an alternate piano, a rawer "Who's Been Talking" with lots of studio chat, a version of "Do the Do" that goes on more than twice as long as the album rendition, and a "rehearsal take" (the only such item here) of "Worried About My Baby" that's far sparser than the one ultimately chosen.
Clapton Meets Da Wolf
Howlin' Wolf's London Sessions is probably the most artistically and commercially successful example of the many efforts made by Chess Records to connect the great bluemen with a young audience. The only reason it doesn't rate five stars is that Wolf's original recordings of these songs are so raw, electrifying and emotionally scorching that they can never be topped, not even by the master himself. Not that he doesn't try. Inspried by an absolutely kickin' band featuring Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Billy Wyman, Charlie Watts and Wolf's great guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Wolf sings with his usual abandon. It's hard to believe that he was 60 years old, on kidney dialysis three times a week and a veteran of two heart attacks. This record is a must have for Clapton nuts. It features some of his most firery blues playing, executed on his famous brown "Layla" strat. Clapton's solo on "Rockin' Daddy" is worth the album price by itself. Fans of "From the Cradle" "Riding with the King" and "Me and Mr. Johson" will love it. (Great moment: an awestruck Clapton gets some droll guitar instruction from Wolf.)
A record that transports me
This is precisely what it is: a bunch of top drawer players - Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Steve Winwood, and Bill Wyman - at one their 70s collective peaks; hooking up with their hero, the great Howlin' Wolf, for a rollicking jam. Clapton was in the firey zenith of the Derek and The Dominoes stage of his career and can be heard here in similar form - always landing on his feet no matter where he leaps; every note infused with the lava of confident creativity --the bite of his guitar just so. Charlie Watts just as Exile cool as can be, driving, swinging, and spashing in places that no other drummer can manage to locate. Steve Winwood's keyboards tasteful and loving as you know they can be. And Wyman supporting it all with a warm, round bass. With this stunning band, Howlin' Wolf just puts it all out there for you. The songs are of course wonderful (Little Red Rooster, Rockin' Daddy, etc) the recording very real to the ear, and you imagine you are there with them fairly often during a listen. I heard this lp in Georgetown back when it came out in the summer of '71 and bought it on the spot. It sounds just as fresh and inspiring to me today. Highly recommend you get this either on iTunes or buy the Deluxe CD with its fine packaging.
Painful to listen to (but not because its bad [or good])
As stated in another review, Wolf's newer, updated versions would never top the intensity and greatness of his originals. Frankly, this album isn't worth writing much about. Each track seems like it could be an outtake or an alternate version. The liner notes are very interesting (I bought it on CD). Apparently Wolf was in a lot of pain and at one point, was found passed out in a bathroom stall and had to be rushed to the hospital. His physical anguish comes across in the songs. It's not a good thing. You just keep thinking to yourself "when's the song going to end so he can take a break and rest a bit?" Howlin' Wolf was one of the most electrifying, original and greatest musical forces ever produced by humanity. But this album makes you just want to put him out of his misery (Wolf never liked this album according to interviews.)
Born: June 10, 1910 in West Point, MS
Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s