An amazing new biography of Sam Phillips of Sun Records!
Peter Guralnick, one of the best American roots-music writers ever, has just released
an outstanding new biography of Memphis music trailblazer Sam Phillips, who
“discovered” Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Walter Horton, Elvis Presley,
Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison, among others. Reading this book, you’ll see how
tough and touch-and-go recording
all these great artists was for Phillips physically, psychically, and
financially. For example, he had to sell Elvis’s contract to a large record
company for $35,000 because he needed the money to
pay off debts to keep going. Phillips always said,
truthfully that he never regretted this decision. His alternative was to
declare bankruptcy, and $35,000 was a huge sum in 1955--the most
any popular singer's contract had ever garnered until then.
Until the end of his life, Phillips said that Wolf was the most profound artist
he ever worked with, and he wanted to record Wolf until either of them died. He
never got that chance because Wolf left Sun Records to record for Chess Records
in Chicago in
1954. Losing Wolf was the biggest disappointment of his career, Phillips
said--far worse than losing Elvis to a bigger label. That tells you all you
need to know about what he thought of Wolf’s talent.
Peter Guralnick’s book is the definitive book about the startling
story of Sam Phillips and the birth of rock
‘n’ roll. It’s well worth reading for anyone who loves American music. As
someone put it, Phillips recorded “a millennium’s worth of music in 10 years,”
and popular music has never been the same.
Wolf and Warhorse!
“Pvt. Chester Arthur Burnett, Picket line Troop G, 9th Cavalry
(colored) from Aberdine, Mississippi, cleaning frog of horse, while Staff
Sgt. Columbus Rudisal, Goffney, S.C., looks on. Sgt. Rudisal is directing
Troop G, 9th Cavalry, 4th Brigade. Sept. 12, 1941.”
Thus reads the caption next to a photo of legendary
bluesman Howlin’ Wolf that we
recently stumbled across on a
U.S. army history web site. This photo has apparently been on the
many years, and we’re the first to notice that
it includes Howlin’ Wolf.
Amazingly, this is one of the earliest photos of Howlin’ Wolf
ever taken, long before he was world-famous as a blues singer. In the photo,
Wolf is cleaning the frog of a horse’s hoof. That’s the
V-shaped, relatively soft part of a horse’s hoof, which can make the
horse lame if a pebble, stick, or burr gets embedded in it. As a blues-loving wit said, paraphrasing Sonny Boy Williamson #2, "He's not
fattening frogs for snakes!"
The photo was taken while Wolf was a cavalryman during the Louisiana
Maneuvers, a series of mock battles conceived by general George Marshall
and led by generals George Patton, Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, and soon-to-be
general Dwight Eisenhower. Marshall said, “I want our mistakes made in
Louisiana, not in Europe.” Patton perfected his tank maneuvers for World War
II here, saying, “If we can take these tanks through Louisiana, we can take them through hell.”
The maneuvers were called the “Big One” because they
involved more than 350,000 men in the largest military exercises ever held
in the U.S. It was the last time the U.S. military took the cavalry
seriously as a weapon of war.
Not only that, but the 9th Cavalry Regiment with which Wolf
served was famous as of the original "Buffalo
So Wolf was already one of the last U.S. cavalrymen, one of the last Buffalo
Soldiers, and one of the greatest bluesmen ever, all at the age of 31.
at Midnight” —the first and only
biography of the great Howlin’ Wolf —a Blues Hall of Fame inductee as “a classic
of blues literature”!
Answers almost every who, what, and why about the blues
giant.” - National Public Radio
“An insightful—and long overdue—look at an utterly unique and
influential performer.”- The Houston Chronicle
“A superb biography of the bluesman Sam Phillips thought
could have changed rock ’n’ roll history.”- Mojo magazine
More than 35 years ago, Howlin’ Wolf
predicted the first black President:
“You know, they called us ‘coons’—said we didn’t have no
sense.You gonna wake up one morning, and a coon’s gonna be the President.”
—“Coon on the Moon” from The Back Door Wolf, recorded in 1973 and
written by Wolf's band leader, Eddie Shaw
looking for unpublished photos, unseen or unheard film, video, and sound
clips, and first-person stories of and about Howlin’ Wolf!
If you have any of these or know someone else who does, please contact
Mark Hoffman. Thanks!