Howlin' Wolf – Live and Cookin' at Alice's Revisited (1972, reissue)

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by Nick DeRiso

Howlin’ Wolf, posthumously inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, had no right to rock it like this. Not after what he had been through.

By the time of his 1972 date at Chicago’s Alice’s Revisited, he had suffered numerous heart attacks. Two years before, he nearly been killed in an automobile accident, and Wolf’s wife Lillie administered dialysis treatments every three days.

Within four years, he would be felled by kidney disase. Yet, there is Howlin’ Wolf, menacing and blustery as ever, tearing through a series of lesser-known fare.

Whatever he was going through offstage, standing on the bandstand with a tough rabble of confidants including guitarist Hubert Sumlin, he remained a brawny, shouting force of nature. The results — Live and Cookin’ at Alice’s Revisited, the only live album released during Wolf’s lifetime — are the subject of a new reissue, released today by the Australian label Raven.

You won’t find the songs most closely associated with Wolf — among them, Willie Dixon’s immortal “Spoonful” and “Little Red Rooster,” and his own “Killing Floor” and “Smokestack Lightning” — so it’s not a great place to start if you’re trying to discover what so influenced rock groups like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Cream and the Doors. For those more familiar with the former Chester Arthur Burnett, however, there are new treasures to behold — even if the nightclub’s close quarters sometimes muddy the sound.

Wolf, born in White Station, Miss., and named as a child after the 21st U.S. president, would eventually be ranked No. 51 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. I don’t know if he ever had a nastier group of groovers behind him: Wolf and Sumlin are joined by legendary piano player Sunnyland Slim, second guitarist L.V. Williams, bassist Dave Myers, drummer Fred Below and saxist Eddie Shaw.

Live and Cookin’, originally issued by Chess and long out-of-print, opens with a low-down, dirty rendition of “When I Laid Down I Was Troubled,” which rumbles along for grease-popping eight minutes. The crowd has started shaking the walls by the time Wolf launches into a rough-edged rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Mean Mistreater,” followed hard by a rollicking update of Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Had A Dream.” Even now, it’s easy to be taken aback by the paronoid sexuality of “Call Me the Wolf,” but then Wolf gently rocks “Sitting on Top of the World,” a blues lullaby by Walter Vinson of the Mississippi Sheiks.

He then makes his tune “The Big House” (a bonus track on this reissue, along with “Mr. Airplane Man”) into a personal moment of thanks for his many fans, yet is ever mindful of his principal responsibily to them. As the band gets going, Wolf shouts: “Put something to it now! Make it funky, make it funky. Make it FUNKY!”

He did that. Right until the very end.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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