Howlin Wolf – “Smokestack Lightnin'”: A Hypnotic One-Chord Drone Piece Three-Way
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by Walter Price
One of the most recognizable and influential songs of all time, “Smokestack Lightnin'” has been referred to as ‘a hypnotic one-chord drone piece’. And, this, is what the origins of Rock N’ Roll is. Ask Ike Turner next time you see him…Howlin’ Lord (Chester Arthur Burnett) was known for this cobbled together classic as early as the 1930’s while playing the Delta clubs. But it wasn’t until the 1960’s’ and 70’s that its powers would change the world of music forever.
“I just play blues for fun. I raise corn and cattle and soybeans. Soybeans are a good cash crop. I got about 65 acres on the Tennessee-Mississippi line.” – Howlin” Wolf
From Chuck Berry, CCR, Captain Beefheart to all those British Invasion cats who ‘borrowed’ elements of what Howlin’ Wolf (and Muddy Waters) laid down and morphed them into something the masses (white kids) could understand. But often, folks forget to give thanks where thanks are due. Which is a weird thing to say now that, over recent decades, “Smokestack Lightnin'” has been recorded by hundreds of artists, spanning every genre… But how many of those covers are authentic adulation for its origin?
I’d say a good number are seriously paying homage, but you can be the judge. I’ve picked three of my favorite version of this seminal blues classic for you to dissect.
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Big Head Todd & the Monsters
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