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January 10, 2014 / Erik Ritland

Appreciations of Howlin’ Wolf, Jim Croce, and Ronnie Hawkins

A musical history lesson for January 10, 2014

Where the soul of man never dies
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38 years ago today the world lost bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. Wolf is one of the foundational legends of music, one of the most unique and influential voices in rock music. His 6 foot, 6 inch, 300 pound stature matched his large, booming voice. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and others, called Wolf his greatest discovery. “This is it,” he said of his finding Wolf. “This is where the soul of man never dies.”

That’s about the best way to describe the Wolf’s voice – and his music. Seminal Wolf songs you should check out include “Evil,” “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man,” “Killing Floor,” and “Smokestack Lightening.” The feel of the songs – and that voice – combine to make transcendent music that will give you the chills.

I suggest, however, not listening to Wolf’s stuff on computer speakers, probably in the middle of the day, while surfing the web like you may be doing. It’s best to listen to at night. And you have to give it your undivided attention. If you do you’ll understand why there’s nothing like it.

To read more about Wolf check out this entertaining multimedia biography.

The underrated Jim Croce
Believe it or not soft rock songwriter Jim Croce would have turned 71 today had he not died in a plane crash in the ‘70s. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get a lot of airplay and recognition beyond his one novelty hit “Bad Bad LeRoy Brown” as many of his songs – “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” “I Got A Name,” (my personal favorite) and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” are very high quality, and his other novelty hits “Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” and “Working at the Car Wash Blues” are all better, and funnier, than “LeRoy Brown” (although “Jim” is literally the same story).

The Hawk, Ronnie Hawkins
On the opposite end of the spectrum is unheralded rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins. Best known for
fronting the Band before they were the Band, Hawkins was the last rockabilly refugee. His energy, on-stage antics, and twisted sense of humor are legendary. His appearance at the Band’s Last Waltz is only an inclination of what he could do in his prime.

Today Ronnie turns 79. Long live the Hawk!

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes frequent Daily Rambles and Ramblin’ On catalogs his writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics. You can reach him via email here.

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