Sunday, February 14, 2016


"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
07   yardbirds
08   etta james
09   john lee hooker
10   edgar broughton band
11   vips 
12   group axis
13   watermelon slim
14   who
15   others
16   animals
17   distortions
18   outcasts
19   smokestack lightnin'
20   george thorogood
21   coloring book
22   quicksilver messenger service
23   mike harrison
24   grateful dead


Unknown said...

Where i the Green On Red's 13:36 version ?

Anonymous said...

outstanding brooo!!! obrigado

john said...

Great idea for a post. As usual good selection of tunes. Thanks very much.

Carlos said...

Another excellent sample, fine selection, thanks Bill, take care. :)

philo said...

You can measure a song by it's longivity.
Here's a great version by a bunch of 19 year olds from Ireland just about 2 years ago.

24HOURDEJAVU said...

So true about many songs that were covered and are still being covered Thanks Philo

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