He was born in 1910 and was named after the twenty-first President of the United States, Chester Arthur. Chester Arthur Burnett was born in the town of White Station, Mississippi, near West Point.
At the age of 18 (1928) he received a guitar. His first idol was bluesman Charley Patton, who at that time was staying near the plantation where Wolf was working. So he approached Patton and asked him to play lessons. Patton agreed and taught him one of his most famous songs, “Stone Poney Blues”. This encouraged Wolf to study further, as he saw that you can earn some extra money by playing and singing blues. He also learned to play the harmonica.
Everyone called him “Big Foot Chester” completely ignoring the dignity of the origin of its name. The most famous, however, was as Howlin ‘Wolf, a huge bluesman.
Very often the Delta bluesmen duplicate their sound and sometimes is difficult to distinguish one from the another, due to the strength of influence of musicians like Robert Johnson. But Wolf was the only one of its kind – in every respect; portly, almost two-meter singer with a hoarse voice did not resemble anyone else.
It may not have the elegance of Muddy Waters, the poetry of Robert Johnson or techniques of Hubert Sumlin but he had more energy and passion than all of them put together.
Howlin ‘Wolf burned on stage. The performances usually ended wallowing on the back on the stage, like a possessed, utterly sweaty and exhausted. No one could match him when it came to charisma. And that voice – which decades later will sound again in the throat of Tom Waits – as if coming out of a can. As if Wolf had his throat full of rusty nails.
Thanks to his brilliant band, he contributed to shaping the sound of both Chicago and contemporary blues. Thus, he exerted a great influence on rock music.