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Excerpts from book reviews,
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Real Change News
June 27, 2005

Howlin ’ Wolf put the beast in blues

Last month, on what would have been The Wolf’s 95th birthday, Thunder’s Mouth Press issued a paperback edition of James Segrest’s and Mark Hoffman’s biography, Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf. Originally published in 2004, now revised and updated, it’s a fine work, tautly and thoughtfully written, based on careful research, remarkable scholarship, and hundreds of interviews with those who knew, loved, and quarreled with The Wolf. It will remain the most complete and reliable source we’ll have on this unforgettable performer and musician.

But Moanin’ at Midnight achieves something more that’s worth our attention. Segrest and Hoffman present Howlin’ Wolf as a complex, thoughtful, troubled, and finally heroic human being.

Howlin’ Wolf was a courageous man and a giant of American music. He deserves a first-rate biography, and now, thanks to James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, he’s got one.

—John Siscoe
©2005 Real Change News

NBC Action News
June 9, 2005

Summer 2005 reading choices:

Titles that are catching buzz in the publishing world and among readers:

Veteran biographers offer a compelling look at the highs and lows of the Mississippi-born Chester Burnett, one of Americas legendary bluesmen

—Allen Pierleoni
©2005 NBC Action News

Dallas Morning News
December 27, 2004

Top Five Works of Nonfiction, 2004

A huge, gritty chunk of black Americana.

—Jerome Weeks, book critic
©2004 Dallas Morning News

Cox News Service

Best Bios and Memoirs of 2004

Moanin’ at Midnight: A tribute to a legendary performer who escaped a life of poverty and abuse in Mississippi to become one of the most famous bluesmen of his time.

-Don O’Briant
©2004 Cox News Service and The Monterey Herald

WGBH radio, Boston
December 2004

2004 Winter Holiday Picks

This book offers a very detailed look into the life of this enigma of postwar blues, taking great strides to portray Wolf as a musician, a personality, and as a human being.

—Brendan Hogan, host of Blues on WGBH
©2004 WGBH, Boston, MA

The News & Observer,
Raleigh, NC

December 3, 2004

Best Non-Fiction of 2004

A rollicking biography of the blues singer known as Howlin Wolf.

-J. Peder Zane, Book Reviews editor
©2004 The News & Observer

The Providence Phoenix
December 3, 2004

Getting Inside Howlin’ Wolf

Moanin’ at Midnight cuts through the mythology of Wolf as a bad-ass monster to find the wounded child within the bear of a man...During his last years, Wolf often declared he’d be better known after he was dead than during his lifetime. The proliferation of CD reissues of his recordings has made that a prophecy, at least for his music. Now, this book from Segrest and Hoffman ensures that Wolf the man will also be remembered, and remembered well.

-Ted Drozdowski
©2004 The Providence Phoenix

Red Lick Records, UK
November 26, 2004


The one we’ve all been waiting for...The definitive writing about Howlin’ Wolf, with great, flowing text and filled with facts and reminiscences. It’s simply the true story of a great man and a great musician.

-Don O’Briant
©2004 Cox News Service and The Monterey Herald

The Dallas Morning News
November 20, 2004

Bluesman’s Portrait Is a Howling Success

By and large–and in his case, very large–the beginnings of rock ’n’ roll can be traced back to the day in July 1951 when a 6-foot-3, nearly 300-pound black man named Chester Burnett first entered a recording studio in Memphis, Tenn....
     In Moanin’ at Midnight, James Segrest and Mark Hoffman take what could have easily been a specialists’ book and fashion instead a thoroughly engrossing portrait of a gruff, often contradictory individual.

-Joseph Milazzo
©2004 The Dallas Morning News

Flint Journal
October 31, 2004

Midnight Brings Blues Legend to Life

Wolf’s rise from crushing poverty to international superstar is a wild soap opera of a story with enough drama for a dozen novels. “Moanin’ at Midnight” is much more than musical biography. It’s truly a legend brought to life.

-Doug Allyn
© 2004 Flint Journal

Shepherd Express
October 21, 2004

Fierce, Growling Blues

As a cultural history, Moanin at Midnight is a substantial achievement...This long-overdue account of his life manages to portray the many sides of this complex personality, so exciting to Sam Phillips more than a half-century ago and still compelling to blues fanatics today.

-Michael Schumacher
©2004 Shepherd Express, Milwaukee, WI

Mix Online
Oct 18, 2004

Glimpses Of Genius

Moanin’ At Midnight is the first (and I’d venture to guess, last) authoritative biography of Wolf—the authors interviewed nearly everyone still living who either knew him or played with him....The book does a marvelous job of capturing the feeling of the clubs and juke joints Wolf played coming up, and it goes into exhaustive detail describing just about every band line-up and recording session he was involved in.

-Blair Jackson
©2004 Mix Online

The Clarion-Ledger,
October 3, 2004

Grand Literature

Beyond being a moving read to all non-fiction readers, it is exciting, and notable for blues fans and musicians...The authors clearly offer readers a well-documented biography. It includes footnotes, a discography and a sessionography, as well as bibliography.
     Chester Burnett strove to learn, to excel and to maintain in his own contorted way. Moanin’ at Midnight suggests he reached that goal.
     He was truly legendary...and he was untiringly loyal to his role as a musician and performer and to his last wife, Lillie. The book is grand literature.

-Thurman Boykin
©2004 The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS

The Daily Camera
September 26, 2004

A Complex Portrait of One of Blues’ Greatest Legends

Sun Records founder Sam Phillips always will be remembered for being the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. But the late music maverick considered blues legend Howlin’ Wolf his greatest find....Although Segrest and Hoffman never pretend they’re detached observers, they don’t let their devotion for the blues legend keep them from offering a compelling portrait of a man who could be as irritable and downright mean as he was generous and warm.

-Michael Cote
©2004 The Daily Camera, Boulder, CO

The Austin Chronicle
September 10, 2004

A Stellar Biography of a Musical Goliath

Hands down, this new biography is the best on the seminal blues master. Sure, it’s also the first book about the Wolf’s place in both the blues pantheon and the story of popular American music. But even if there were an extant tome about the 250-plus pound, 6-foot-3-inch musician formerly known as Big Foot Chester, Segrest and Hoffman’s book would still stand as giant as its subject’s size-16 Chuck Taylors. Moanin’ at Midnight took 10 years to research, and it shows. There are copious interviews, quotes from the Tail Dragger himself, and recording session notes that help paint a vivid picture of Wolf’s towering influence....There are enough footnotes to compete with any academic text, yet Moanin’ at Midnight reads as smooth and complete as one of Wolf’s breathy harp solos.

-David Lynch
©2004 Austin Chronicle

MOJO magazine
September, 2004

Superb Biography of the Bluesman Sam Phillips Thought Could Have Changed Rock ’n’ Roll History

Howlin’ Wolf was a huge, charismatic figure, but he was not particularly communicative with journalists, and his first biographers might have been content to round up some secondary sources and construct a workmanlike chronicle of a life that began in tenant-farmer poverty in Mississippi and ended in Chicago in middleclass comfort. Fortunately, the Wolf and we have been luckier than that. The authors seem to have talked to every surviving family member, every sideman Wolf ever employed, every English beat-group muso who accompanied him. What’s astonishing is how candid and revealing their stories are: about his fragmented home life, his dogged pursuit of selfbetterment through guitar lessons and college courses, his carnivalesque stage act, his almost paternal relationship with his wayward, brilliant guitarist Hubert Sumlin. The recordings, too, are vividly described, but succinctly: it’s the story not of a studio shooting star but of a day-by-day bandleader in an unforgiving business—and, as such, a model of blues biography.

-Tony Russell
©2004 MOJO magazine

The Houston Chronicle,
August 5, 2004

Brings Prototypical Bluesman to Vivid Life

Relying on research, more than 250 fresh (and revealing) interviews and—of course—the music, James Segrest and Mark Hoffman do a solid job of telling the story of Wolf’s amazing journey....Part music journalism and part social history, Moanin’ at Midnight is an insightful—and long overdue—look at an utterly unique and influential performer.

-Bob Ruggiero
©2004 The Houston Chronicle

The Buffalo News
July 25, 2004

Following the Wolf to Death’s Door

“After I’m dead and gone, you see, well, these undergrowth’ll be sayin’, ‘I heard of this cat, but I never seen him. Here his name and here his picture in the book!’” So said Howlin’ Wolf in Boston in 1973, just three years before his death. And he was right. These words open James Segrest and Mark Hoffman’s breathtakingly comprehensive and utterly compelling biography, Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf, and tell a great deal about the life and legacy of the man known as the Wolf....This is beautiful, stirring music criticism, a testament that Segrest and Hoffman’s work here is not just exhaustive research; it is great writing, period.

-Christopher Schobert
©2004 The Buffalo News

The New York Times,
July 21, 2004

Overwhelming Giant of the Blues

White historians usually deserve the blame for over-mythologizing blues singers. But James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, co-authors of the biography Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf, have little to fear.
     Howlin Wolfs feral act led everyone to mythologize him: black and white, musicians and laymen, and especially Wolf himself. Here the biographers repeat the myths, and lay them on a chronological grid....
     But by debriefing nearly 150 musicians who knew him and drawing on secondary sources as well, and by the subtle imposition of a few overriding themes, they have done important work in bringing Wolf down a little closer to life size.

-Ben Ratliff
©2004 The New York Times

The San Francisco Chronicle
July 4, 2004

When the Wolf Began to Howl the Blues

In their new biography, Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf, authors James Segrest and Mark Hoffman quote Bonnie Raitt from a Guitar World magazine interview: “If I had to pick one person who does everything I loved about the blues, it would be Howlin’ Wolf. It would be the size of his voice, or just the size of him. When you’re a little pre-teenage girl and you imagine what a naked man in full arousal is like, it’s Howlin’ Wolf. When I was a kid, I saw a horse in a field with an erection, and I went, ‘Holy s—!’ That’s how I feel when I hear Howlin’ Wolf—and when I met him it was the same thing. He was the scariest, most deliciously frightening bit of male testosterone I’ve ever experienced in my life.” The book is full of illuminating—if not so juicy—testimonials like that.

-David Rubien
©2004 The San Francisco Chronicle

LA City Beat,
July 1, 2004

Down-to-Earth Giant

Blues scribes have always found Muddy Waters an easier subject than his great Chicago rival Howlin’ Wolf. Maybe that was a product of Muddy’s relaxed garrulity, or of Wolf’s taciturn inscrutability. So it’s only now, nearly 30 years after Wolf’s death from cancer in 1976, that he has been accorded his first full-length biography.
     Fans will find “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf” (Pantheon), by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, to be an imperfect but nonetheless enormously illuminating exploration of this most elusive of modern bluesmen.
     Reading “Moanin’ at Midnight,” one discovers an artist who was not what he seemed onstage. In front of a crowd, Wolf was fierce, extroverted, bawdy, madly comic, sometimes terrifying. Segrest and Hoffman’s Wolf is something else: tender, introverted, smart, generous, highly sensitive, and, in the end, indomitable.
     Though it suffers from some injudicious editing and occasional repetitiveness, “Moanin’ at Midnight” is finally a heroic study that succeeds in giving a larger-than-life figure a human size. With Don McGlynn’s complementary 2003 film “The Howlin’ Wolf Story” (Bluebird DVD), Segrest and Hoffman’s book shows us, as no one has before, what made the Wolf howl.

-Chris Morris
©2004 LA City Beat

USA Today,
June 21, 2004

“Midnight” Sings the Blues with Howlin Wolf’s Growl

If the roots of American blues indeed sprang from the anguish of black poverty, then Chester Arthur Burnett—aka Howlin’ Wolf—had a wealth of material from which to write songs. His no-holds-barred life has provided a wealth of material for the biography Moanin’ at Midnight...
     Moanin’ at Midnight is a valuable chronicle of the blues, tracing the trajectory of Burnett’s career from playing juke joints and whorehouses to performing at international festivals and recording at Chicago’s influential Chess Record Studios.

-Stephen Lyons
©2004 USA Today

The Oregonian
June 18, 2004

Baker’s Hot List

James Segrest and Mark Hoffman teamed up to write the first biography of Wolf, Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf. It’s a fine year for books about the blues; Segrest and Hoffman’s follows Can’t Be Satisfied, Robert Gordon’s biography of Muddy Waters.

©2004 The Oregonian

The New York Times,
June 14, 2004:

Delta Force

“Moanin’ at Midnight” is this generation’s first and probably last full portrait of one of the giants of American music—a figure who belongs in the company of Duke Ellington, Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. This book should scare off any rival biographers until everyone who ever knew Wolf is dead....Essential reading...heartbreaking....It offers more than enough information to satisfy anyone who loves the music, and it might tantalize some of the uninitiated into seeking out Wolf’s scary, magisterial recordings.

-David Gates
©2004 The New York Times

The Toronto Globe and Mail,
June 12, 2004:

The Real Blues Brothers

Veteran blues musician Johnny Shines admitted that he used to think the Wolf had sold his soul to the devil to perform the way he did. He did not acknowledge the same for Robert Johnson (1911-1938), with whom Shines traveled extensively, and whom writers for the last 40 years have thought struck such a deal...
     Almost to the end, [Wolf] performed whenever he could. He didn’t live long enough to experience the recognition from mainstream audiences that Muddy Waters enjoyed. But Howlin’ Wolf made records that endure. Segrest and Hoffman show how to appreciate his best songs and his well-rounded life.

-Edward Komara
©2004 The Globe and Mail

The Tucson Citizen,
June 10, 2004:

The Definitive Biography of Howlin’ Wolf

“Moanin’ At Midnight” is the definitive biography of Howlin’ Wolf and it is long overdue. After 10 years of extensive research and more than 250 interviews with such American blues icons as B.B. King, Ike Turner and Sam Lay, the authors have produced a stunning portrait of one of the most revered and elusive blues performers of all time. His story is written with such style and attention to both color and detail, one can almost smell the cigarette smoke, taste the stale beer and feel the pain of the Mississippi blues.

-Larry Cox
©2004 The Tucson Citizen

The Chicago Reader,
June 4, 2004:

Four Hundred Pages of Heavenly Joy

“Moanin’ at Midnight” turns up a wealth of new facts, unraveling much of the mystery that surrounds Howlin’ Wolf. Fittingly, it comes on the heels of “Can’t Be Satisfied” (Little, Brown), Robert Gordon’s definitive bio of Wolf’s chief Chicago blues rival, Muddy Waters...
   Though “Moanin’ at Midnight” acknowledges Wolf’s larger-than-life image, the book also takes pains to present him as a three-dimensional character. More than just a bug-eyed house-rocking behemoth—he was six foot three and nearly 300 pounds in his prime—Wolf was a responsible businessman and bandleader, even withholding social security and unemployment from his musicians’ pay.

-Bob Mehr
©2004 The Chicago Reader

The Chicago Sun-Times,
June 4, 2004:

Built for Greatness: Wolf’s Timeless Tale

For blues fans, 2004 could very well be the Year of the Wolf.
     At the beginning of the year came the outstanding video biography “The Howlin’ Wolf Story,” featuring interviews with family and band members and rare performance footage.
     Now “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf” by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, joins “Spinning Blues Into Gold,” Nadine Cahodas’ meticulously researched story of Chess Records, and “Can’t Be Satisfied,” Robert Gordon’s outstanding biography of Muddy Waters, in a trilogy of Chicago blues histories...
     Every blues fan—and every Chicagoan—should appreciate “Moanin’ at Midnight.”

-Jeff Johnson
©2004 The Chicago Sun-Times

Big Road Blues
June 2, 2004

It’s Been a Long Time Coming and It’s Finally Here!

When one considers the amount of time, dedication, and honest-to-goodness leg work that goes into something this large, the outcome is far more than satisfying and interesting. Segrest and Hoffman went about writing this book with a deep sense of passion for both the artist and his music. That passion breathes from the pages and pulls the reader in as you fall inside Wolf’s world and find out what he overcame to become the respected figure so many loved and admired....Highly recommended and well worth waiting for. Moanin’ At Midnight: The Life And Times Of Howlin’ Wolf is a keeper on all counts.

-Craig Ruskey
©2004 Big Road Blues

The Seattle Times,
June 1, 2004:

Biography Reveals Howlin’ Wolf’s Blues

Segrest and Hoffman have surely written what will be the definitive story of Wolf’s life. Based on more than 250 interviews and 10 years of research, the authors have detailed every nuance of Wolf’s life and career, and touch on virtually every musician who ever shared a stage with Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf. The level of their research, which tells the complete story of Wolf’s childhood, displays the kind of scholarship usually reserved for academics...This book is essential for any fan of the Wolf, a man that even Muddy Waters was called to celebrate.

-Charles R. Cross
©2004 The Seattle Times

Rhythm & News
from Delmark Records,
June, 2004


A lot of blues fans have eagerly been awaiting the publication of this book and thankfully the wait was not in vain. Thoroughly researched, “Moanin at Midnight” traces Wolfs life from his tragic childhood in Mississippi right up until his death on January 10th, 1976 in Hines, IL. Conversations with Wolfs widow (the late Lillie Burnett), the few surviving musicians who worked with him as well as other members of the international blues community and music business all help to flesh out a truly impressive biography of the man whom I personally feel was the greatest blues singer of all time.

-George Hansen
©2004 Delmark Records’ Rhythm & News newsletter

The San Diego Union-Tribune,
May 30, 2004:

Captures the Pain, and Heart, of Blues Giant

“Moanin’ at Midnight”—incredibly, the first full-length bio published on this long-acknowledged legendary master of the blues – brings to light the lifelong, Dickensian horrors that transformed Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett’s singing into a primal, animalistic wail to forever linger in the soul of all who experience it...
     Accounts of murdered fans falling dead at the feet of musicians onstage, of the alcoholic guitar wizard Johnson slashing at the Wolf with his switchblade from slights both real and imagined, of buttocks filled with buckshot fired by spurned lovers, permeate this tale like Wolf’s lupine moans imbued his music...
     Reading this page-turning, morbidly fascinating biography makes one feel that pain even more comprehensively, while illuminating what made Howlin’ Wolf the towering giant, in every sense of the word, he’ll remain. “Moanin’ at Midnight” earns my highest recommendation not only for blues fans, but for anyone who can appreciate a harrowing and unforgettable yarn.

-Buddy Blue
©2004 The San Diego Union-Tribune

The Boston Globe,
May 23, 2004:

The big bad Wolf, from all sides

The authors of this engaging book are devoted to Wolf’s memory and music, which they appreciate, understand, and assess—almost record by record. The discography and chronology of recording sessions, located at the end, will be invaluable to enthusiasts of blues, r & b, and jazz. Segrest and Hoffman have conducted countless interviews with musicians who played alongside Wolf and people who saw him perform. “Moanin’ at Midnight” demonstrates just how much can be recovered by dedicated researchers working on 20th-century subjects for which the written evidence is sparse and uneven. The authors uncover a rich vein of vernacular language and intriguing colloquialisms in the vivid memories and observations of those who knew the entertainer.

-Michael Kammen
©2004 The Boston Globe

Library Journal,
May 15, 2004:

Highly recommended for all public and university libraries

Chester Arthur Burnett (1910-1976)—better known as Howlin’ Wolf—started singing and playing guitar and harmonica throughout the Mississippi Delta after a chance meeting with blues legend Charley Patton. Though he started as an imitator of that master in the 1930s, the Wolf went on to usher in the electric blues scene in 1950s Chicago with a gravelly voice and a down-and-dirty stage presence all his own. In this first full-length biography, historian Segrest and musician-writer Hoffman put the Wolf in his rightful place alongside his more celebrated contemporaries (e.g., Muddy Waters), detailing their subject’s life, performance style, recordings, and pervasive influence on American and British blues and rock musicians. Especially interesting—and bound to be controversial—is the well-supported discussion of the Wolf’s relationship to fellow bluesman Willie Dixon, who was given sole credit for writing songs either written or co-written by the Wolf himself. This readable, high-quality work is made all the more valuable by the continuing popularity of blues music and the Wolf’s lasting influence.

-James E. Perone, Mount Union College, Alliance, OH
©2004 Library Journal and Reed Business Information

May 1, 2004:

Down-home, gritty, and comprehensive

Billed as the first full-length biography of Howlin’ Wolf, the strapping (six-foot-three and 300 pounds) bluesman with the lyrical growl, this engrossing study is a must-have for blues-concerned collections and, indeed, a worthy acquisition for any pop music collection. The Wolf (Chester Burnett offstage) stands with Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker among the giants in the blues pantheon. A student of Charlie Patton and the first Sonny Boy Williamson, he rose from the poor sharecropper’s life that was pretty much obligatory for blacks in Mississippi’s Delta region to stardom in first Memphis and then Chicago. He helped define the blues sound that many of the English-invasion rock bands of the 1960s based their styles on. A worthy shelf mate for Robert Gordon’s Muddy Waters biography, Can’t Be Satisfied (2002), Segrest and Hoffman’s book is a distinctive survey of the Wolf’s life and career and a valuable blues history resource in general by virtue of its limning of many of the Wolf’s fellow bluesmen—Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and others.

-Mike Tribby
©2004 Booklist

*Starred* review from
Publisher’s Weekly,
April 12, 2004:

Fluid, fascinating and thoroughly researched

Music writers Segrest and Hoffman do a superb job of capturing the many facets of Wolf’s long career, making it a worthy companion to Robert Gordon’s recent book on the other Chicago blues giant, Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. But while Waters was controlled and sexy, Segrest and Hoffman show, in contrast, how Wolf was ferocious, angry and unpredictable, a large man with a powerful, raspy voice and a keen intelligence. Born Chester Burnett in Mississippi in 1910, Wolf, as the authors show, endured “crushing poverty” and almost constant physical abuse, the source of much of the anger in his music. The authors nicely detail the important musicians who influenced Wolf, from Charlie Patton, the acknowledged master of country blues who taught Wolf to play the guitar, to Reggie Boyd, the brilliant but obscure guitar teacher who encouraged Wolf’s desire to expand his already enormous musical vision. Best of all, the authors wonderfully describe Wolf’s inimitable style on the many recordings he made in Chicago for Chess Records, such as “Smokestack Lightnin,” Wolf’s masterpiece: “Over a hypnotic guitar figure and a driving rhythm that subtly accelerates like a locomotive, Wolf sang a field holler vocal, interspersed with falsetto howls like a dread lupine beast just down the road at midnight.”

©2004 Publisher’s Weekly and Reed Business Information

Praise from
the bluesmen
who knew Wolf:

He was one of a kind. Nobody I heard before him or after him has had that fantastic delivery–that certain something in his voice that seemed like a sword that’d pierce your soul when he’d sing. Wolf was already a great singer and musician when I first met him. To my mind, he’s one of the greatest ever. We’ll never see another like him.
–From the Introduction by B. B. King

Talk about best-kept secrets! There are no rumors in this book–not a one. It says everything there is to say about the Wolf. I’ve been looking for this one for a long, long time.
–Taj Mahal

Things folks have done in the dark are going to come out in the light. Nobody else has ever dug up what these guys have found–and it’s right.
–Hubert Sumlin