Howlin' Wolf - I Smell a Rat
In the late '60s Chess Records engaged in what at the time was considered blasphemy and what nowadays is slowly starting to be viewed as adventurous and, dare I say, even worthwhile: they tried to bring their aging blues stars, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, into both the psychedelic rock scene and the soul biz. The two LPs most indicative of that approach was Muddy's Electric Mud and Wolf's This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album, both released on Cadet Concept, the label created by Leonard Chess' son Marshall to relase progressive rock. Both albums were critically panned, and Wolf himself called his album "dogshit" (or "birdshit," depending on what you read; of course, Cadet Concept knew Wolf's feelings about the record before its release, and noted on the stark album cover "This is Howlin' Wolf's new album. He doesn't like it"). Although upon listening in 2006 it's clear that Muddy's album was the better of the two, Wolf actually eked out a minor R&B hit from his LP with a psyched-out remake of "Evil."
Wolf had already been given the soul treatment by the time his album came out. "Pop It To Me" (which appears on Episode #1 of the "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul" podcast) found Wolf covering Syl Johnson's "Come On Sock It To Me." Although there is some truth to Michael Haralambos' statement in his book Right On that Wolf's style was too singular to make the record sound contemporary, the tune is a pretty good funky 45 and is one of my favorite funky blues records. Today's selection was pulled as a single from Wolf's 1971 LP Message To The Young, a second, but thankfully less-extreme, attempt to modernize the Howlin' Wolf sound. Over a slightly funky but very busy groove Wolf cautions his woman about sneaking around, and does his howlin' over a wah-wah guitar solo. As one author noted, Message To The Young went unappreciated by all ages, but "I Smell a Rat" is another interesting example of the Chess blues experiments of the psychedelic era.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Later today or tonight I hope to put Episode #7 of the podcast online. Watch out for it!