Monday, December 15, 2014

Standard of the Week: Smokestack Lightnin

In 1956, blues legend Howlin' Wolf (real name Chester Burnett) recorded 'Smokestack Lighting' for Chess Records. The song is a repeating E chord vamp, with hypnotic blues wailing from the Wolf, true to his name. His band for the ages backing him: Hubert Sumlin and Willie Johnson played electric guitars, Hosea Lee Kennard on piano, Willie Dixon on bass guitar and Earl Phillips on drums. Wolf  played the harmonica on the song too.

The song is in reference to trains, and early blues pioneers who coined and sang some of the same lines like Charlie Patton. Wolf said: "We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning."

Since then it's become a blues standard, winning a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1999 for it's historical significance, and remains the Wolf's most famous song.

Dozens of blues and rock musicians covered it, such as:





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