Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Wolf/Waters Blues Twofer

Long before computer users had aliases and decades before CB radio users had handles, the great bluesmen had nicknames. Two of the most memorable of these names belonged to Chester Burnett and McKinley Morganfield.

I don’t know about you, but either of these men’s real names are unique and I kind of like that. I mean, how many folks do you know by the first name of McKinley? I can’t think of a single one.

That aside – the monikers chosen by these two Chess Records bluesmen are more recognizable than any unique name. They were respectively Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Both have records that are TV Thursday selections.

Howlin’ Wolf: Smokestack Lightning

This classic Howlin’ Wolf song was recorded in 1956 and is monochromatic in that it was based on a riff based on a single chord. It is said it was inspired by the old steam driven locomotives that young Chester used go out at night and watch. Bellowing out of the engine’s smokestack with the smoke, the young man referred to the sparks that flew upward as “smoke stack lightning.”

The song is currently in use in the latest Viagra commercial. It is also ranked at 285 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Song of All Time. It is also one of the 500 songs that shaped Rock ‘N Roll as listed by the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.

Muddy Waters: Mannish Boy

Muddy Waters’ classic 1955 recording was an answer tune to fellow Chess artist Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man.” It was used in a Levis 501 Jeans commercial a number of years ago. Like “Smokestack Lightning,” the song appears on both lists of top 500 songs. It ranks at #229 on Rolling Stone’s list. Here’s a live version of the tune by Muddy followed by the Levis commercial.

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