"Smokestack Lightning" (or "Smoke Stack Lightning" as listed on the original single, but "Smokestack Lightnin'" on re-releases) is a classic of the blues. Howlin' Wolf recorded it in 1956, and it became one of his most popular and influential songs. It is based on earlier blues songs, and numerous artists later interpreted it.
Wolf had performed "Smokestack Lightning" in one form or another at least by the early 1930s,when he was performing with Charley Patton in small Delta communities. The song, called "a hypnotic one-chord drone piece",
It draws on earlier blues, such as Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues" (1928, , the Missisippi Sheiks' "Stop and Listen Blues" (1930), and Charley Patton's "Moon Going Down" (1930, Paramount Wolf said the song was inspired by watching trains in the night: "We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning." In 1951, he recorded the song as "Crying at Daybreak" . It contains the line "O-oh smokestack lightnin', shinin', just like gold, oh don't you hear me cryin'", similar to the Mississippi Sheiks' lyric "A-ah, smokestack lightnin', that bell shine just like gold, now don't you hear me talkin'".
In Chicago in January 1956, Howlin' Wolf recorded "Smokestack Lightning". The song takes the form of "a propulsive, one-chord vamp, nominally in E major but with the flatted blue notes that make it sound like E minor", and lyrically it is "a pastiche of ancient blues lines and train references, timeless and evocative".
Longtime Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin is credited with the distinctive guitar line. Howlin' Wolf sang and played harmonica, backed by pianist Hosea Lee Kennard, guitarists Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Earl Phillips.
In 1956, "Smokestack Lightning" reached number 11 in the Billboard R&B chart.
When it was released by Pye International Records in the UK in 1964, it peaked at number 42 in the singles chart.
It was later included on the albums Moanin' in the Moonlight and The Howlin' Wolf Album.
01 howlin' wolf
02 muddy waters
03 oblivion sect
04 electric prunes
05 green on red
06 manfred mann
08 etta james
09 john lee hooker
10 edgar broughton band
12 group axis
13 watermelon slim
19 smokestack lightnin'
20 george thorogood
21 coloring book
22 quicksilver messenger service
23 mike harrison
24 grateful dead