Performed and written by Howlin’ Wolf
Imagine sitting in a small dark club on the Southside of Chicago. Gaze upon Howlin’ Wolf in all his raging glory, six foot six and three hundred pounds, eyes wide as hubcaps and shining bright as headlights, mouth like a junkyard dog, smiling like a man about to have his way. A nasty guitar note rings out. Wolf’s voice rises from somewhere deep within, it scrapes, growls, stretches and punches; it’s full of broken stones and smashed metal, heartache and sinew. The voice comes from someone who’s taken beatings and given them out too; someone who’s known love and been betrayed by love, someone who knows raw sex of Biblical proportions. That voice is not alone. It’s backed by the one of the best blues bands ever, drums and bass working together, Hubert Sumlin’s guitar as rough and ready as Wolf’s voice. The music shakes your foundation, rattles your walls and makes you quiver in fearful joy. Women be careful cause the Wolf’s hard to resist. Men be careful cause there’s always the chance for trouble. “Ah, whoo hoo, ooh…”
Like many great songs, “Smokestack Lightning” contains great mystery. One can ask exactly what the song is about even as the grunts and howls of Wolf convey all you need to know.