Summary: Swan’s are regarded as occultists, enchanters or sorcerers.
Witches. It’s plausible. I guess. I am a direct descendant of Abigail
Faulkner after all. Who is that, you ask? Think Salem Witch Trials.
Who am I? My name is Abigail Faulkner Swan. What am I? Well, that is
yet to be determined.
Do Not Own (other than Abigail…yeah, she’s my witch.)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are
the property of their respective owners. The original characters and
plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated
with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No
copyright infringement is intended.
Everyone probably knows who Howlin’ Wolf is, or at least knows the name. Chester Arthur Burnett, born in rural Mississippi, eventually ending up in Chicago by way of Memphis, claiming to have driven his way out of the delta after having been inspired by Charley Patton and others as a youth. Size 16 shoes, 6’3”, ~300 lbs, voice redolent of the netherworld. That’s all the biography I’m gonna do. Best place for the full story is either the book Moanin’ at Midnight, The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, or better yet the DVD The Howlin’ Wolf Story – The Secret History of Rock & Roll, which contains great interviews with family members and musicians that played with him, not to mention this clip (in far better quality) and several lesser others. One of the better multimedia biographies I’ve seen, and highly recommended to anyone, not just blues fans. Wolf was a larger than life character, but so much more.
What comes across most indelibly from the interviews with family members in particular is just how devoted a family man and husband he was, and more surprisingly how meticulously businesslike he was in maintaining his career, with the help of his urbane and educated wife Lillie. Wolf, a big star and comparatively well paid, went back to school at her urging, getting his GED and taking some accounting and business classes beyond that, all in the interest of maintaining what had already been a successful career. He claims to have driven north from Memphis with $4,000, in his own car, and that’s entirely believable. Being possessed of a voice and demeanor that inspired Sun Records owner and producer Sam Phillips to say “This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.” insured him of success as an entertainer, but that wasn’t enough. Wolf wanted more.
His seriousness about his music, and most of all the business aspects of his career as it wore on, led to some things that one might not expect from a blues performer. Things like paying his band handsomely, even to the extent that they got health care benefits! To my knowledge this is fairly unique in the music business even to this day, at least in this realm. Wolf, though a stickler for good work habits (if not musical perfection), cared about his guys and it showed. Band members came and went, as is typical in the booze soaked, hardscrabble life of blues musicians, but most often they returned. Longtime Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin’s interviews on the DVD are especially moving and illustrative of this. Sumlin’s genuine love of Wolf is obvious as he speaks, always in his uncommonly friendly and affable way. Though he would leave the band often, no other musician was as permanent a fixture, more important to the musical legacy of Howlin’ Wolf. And Sumlin wasn’t exactly a virtuoso player, nor were any of the band members over the years. Wolf watched the bottom line, but his big heart led to a family atmosphere and ethic among those with whom he surrounded himself.
But that’s enough of that! Let’s talk about this clip already. On May 20th, 1965, Howlin’ Wolf appeared on the teen pop music show Shindig, most likely at the behest of the Rolling Stones, though host Jack Good disputed this later and even in the introduction here. It’s one of the oddest and most surrealistically sublime moments in cultural history, watching this bellowing behemoth purveyor of the real thing command the stage as go-go girls (actress Terri Garr among them) and ridiculously coiffed Stones less than half his age clap along in varying states of ecstasy or practiced routine. Wolf is at his absolute best here, with an insanely great band, better than those he was recording with by that time, and maybe ever had. It was the Shindig house band, comprised of guitarist James Burton, a guitar icon, the erstwhile soon to be fifth Beatle Billy Preston on piano, and LA studio stalwarts Larry Knechtel and Mickey Conway on bass and drums respectively. They lay down a fabulous shuffle groove and season it with just the right amount of spicy guitar and other instrumental flourishes. It’s freakin’ perfect!
The tune Wolf chooses? Not one of his more recent efforts, which had long since stopped denting the R&B charts, as Motown and other soul music was taking over. By this time blues had increasingly become music for white audiences, even the efforts of blues-soul performers like Bobby Bland no longer getting much attention. But Wolf wasn’t one to bend to current trends. No twist records for him! No, he goes back to his first hit. His signature song, “How Many More Years”, recorded back in Memphis in 1951. It’s a tune he knows inside and out, every last note, mannerism, vocal aside and harmonica riff like breathing by now. And he holds back nothing. No sitting on a chair as he was sometimes doing by this time, his age, size and health catching up with him. It’s as if he knew this would be important, in a for the ages, “soul of man never dies” way. He belts out every syllable with full tilt energy, abandon and precision, commands the stage with as much feral nuance as the TV limitations would allow. By the final harmonica solo, he positively undulates with timeless and perfect oneness with the universe, his hips shakin’ like none of the go-go dancers’ could on their best day. It’s a wonder that TV sets nationwide didn’t explode!
I could go on all day writing about how great this clip is, how dumbfounded I was when I found it. I’d been a Howlin’ Wolf fan for decades! This particular tune had long been my favorite. To see and hear it so perfectly rendered, in this surreal setting, absolutely floored me. It still floors me, every time I play it. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect blues performance, even if one were to only hear what’s here. To see it as well is almost too much bliss. I hope it brings you even a fraction of the unmitigated joy it brings me, and will, until I’m “sleepin’ six feet in the ground”.
Today in Baseball History 4/2
1869 - Hughie Jennings is born in Pittston, PA. Jennings will be a standout shortstop before making a successful transition to manager. He will lead the Baltimore Orioles National League club to four straight appearances in the 19th century Temple Cup World Championship Series from 1894 to 1897 and the Detroit Tigers to three consecutive American League pennants from 1907 to 1909. Jennings will be elected to the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee in 1945.
1874 - At the fourth meeting of the National Association in Boston, the batter’s box is officially adopted. It is also decided that expulsion will be the penalty for any player betting on his own team and any player betting on any other team will forfeit his pay.
1908 - The Mills Commission determines that Abner Doubleday originated the game of baseball. In its final report, the seven-man commission states that: “The first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, NY, in 1839.”
1931 - At Engel Stadium, Miss Jackie Mitchell strikes out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game held in Chattanooga, TN. The 17-year-old girl, a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts roster, also walks Tony Lazzeri in Chattanooga’s 14 - 4 loss to the New York Yankees. In 1933 Mitchell will pitch for the House of David team.
1976 - In a blockbuster trade a week before the season starts, the Orioles deal Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell, and Mike Torrez to the A’s in exchange for Ken Holtzman, Reggie Jackson, and Bill Van Bommel. A month will pass before Jackson will report to his new team, accounting for Baltimore’s slow start in April.
1995 - The longest strike in major league history comes to an end. Having the first 23 days of this major league season canceled and 252 games of the last season lost, the owners accept the players’ March 31st unconditional offer to return to work. The players’ decision to return to work is made after a US District Court issued an injunction restoring terms and conditions of the expired agreement. Teams will play 144-game schedules. The strike had begun on August 12, 1994.
1997 - For the first time in major league history, the salary of one player is more than the payroll of an entire team. The White Sox will pay Albert Belle $10 million for the season, which is $928,333 more than the entire Pirate payroll.
2001 - For the first time in major league history, a Japanese position player participates in a regular season game. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, hitless in his first three at-bats, singles in the 7th inning to ignite a two-run rally, and bunts for another single in the 8th in his debut at Safeco Field. He will go on the be both the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP this year.
2011 - The Commissioner’s office demands that the New York Yankees stop relaying hand signals from the stands to their hitters at New Yankee Stadium, something which is expressly prohibited by a directive from Major League Baseball. GM Brian Cashman apologizes to Joe Garagiola Jr. and says the team will comply.
New content tomorrow, how much depends on circumstances. Bound to have been something fun on the trip north to enthuse over though. Baseball! Soon!
“If it’ll make you feel any better, I’ve learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead.”