What was in that spoonful?

Howlin' Wolf



Release Date: March 27th, 1960

Words by: Adam Wilding
March 28th, 1965


One of the earliest memories which comes to mind of being introduced to the blues was watching the 1986 movie 'Crossroads' (starring Ralph ‘The Karate Kid’ Macchio), a film loosely based on the Robert Johnson mythology of how the Devil used to give pro-bono blues lessons on a dusty highway, providing you ignored the fine print (something about signing over your mortal soul and going to hell etc.). Well-known musician and blues tragic Ry Cooder co-wrote much of the soundtrack for the film and commented prior to its release, “I think the blues still speaks to kids today. It's so old that it's new.” The same sentiment is even more valid in the present given the oversupply of music everywhere you look; and also the need to be the first to discover something new and exciting - what’s wrong with re-discovering something old again?

What was in that spoonful? Howlin' Wolf

Blues was around well before Chester Arthur Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, sang, recorded, and released “Spoonful” in 1960: a song written for him by Chicago legend Willie Dixon. Despite assumptions that Wolf was the atypical blues man (i.e. play songs, gamble earnings, drink whiskey for breakfast, repeat), legend has it he was a clean-cut individual; which seems further contradicted by his massive presence and a gravel throat voice that is surely owed some debt of gratitude by Tom Waits.

This track has held up rather well despite its age, particularly with the renewed interest in the almost indescribable quality of old vinyl and the audacious simplicity of analog recording. Essentially, what’s old is now new again and whether you simply dismiss this as gimmick, you can’t deny the ageless quality of the scratchy baritone vocal, the 4/4 repeating afterthought palm-mute strum, the meaningless lyrical babble that speaks to some forgotten part of your marrow - all basic ingredients of every great rock/grunge/punk track you’ve ever heard, stripped back and raw. Howlin’ Wolf was a master of saying nothin’ with conviction and "Spoonful" is no exception to this claim. It remains one of his seminal singles.

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