First posted November 13, 2008. Last updated September 8, 2018.
Moanin’ in the Moonlight/Howlin’ Wolf (aka “The Rocking Chair Album”)
Released: 1959 M, Jan. 11, 1962 R
Years Covered: 1951-58 M, 1957-62 R
Sales (in millions):
M Moanin’ in the Moonlight
Quotable: “The cream of Wolf’s Chicago blues work.” – Stephen Cook, All Music Guide
Howlin’ Wolf’s first two albums, Moanin’ in the Moonlight (1959) and Howlin’ Wolf (The Rockin’ Chair Album) (1962) weren’t so much albums as compilations since both were collections covering several years of Wolf’s career. In the CD era, the two albums have been packaged together as one release.
Moanin’ in the Moonlight served as Howlin’ Wolf’s debut album, gathering a dozen of his Chess singles from 1951 to 1958. “The arrangements and the instrumental accompaniments, particularly the guitar, harmonica and piano, capture the fullest the concept of ‘blue tonality.’” PA
Moanin’ in the Moonlight and How Many More Years, were recorded in July 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee at Sam Phillip’s Memphis Recording Service and, after being sold to Chess Records, were released as singles in August 1951. WK-M The former “is a mood piece which captures the eerie, lonesome atmosphere of an isolated dwelling, is hard to match.” PA The latter, “with its strongly-marked piano figure, changes the pace and atmosphere entirely, for it presents the point of view of the man who finds his nagging wife too much to bear.” PA
All Night Boogie was recorded in Memphis in 1953 and was also sold to Chess Records. It “is an uptempo blues with a rollicking beat which bellies the essential sadness of the theme: that of the man who wakes up and finds his ‘baby’ gone.” PA
The remainder of the songs “were recorded in Chicago, Illinois and produced by either the Chess brothers and/or Willie Dixon.” WK-M Among them is Smokestack Lightnin’, which has probably become the best-known song by Howlin’ Wolf. It is “a powerful side with a world of flavor, presents a picture of anguish as the man asks his ‘baby’ where she stayed during the night.” PA
The collection included a couple of other songs which hit the R&B charts. I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline). was the fourth top-ten R&B single for the Chicago blues singer/guitarist/harmonicist. Evil was initially released in 1954, but didn’t chart until 1969. It “is sung in Howlin’ Wolf’s best shouting style. The lyric is vastly interesting and entertaining – being a catalog of things to be suspicious of, if one is to persevere a happy home. The piano here, particularly the right hand, is of amazing flexibilty.” PA
Howlin’ Wolf’s second eponymously-titled album gathered another dozen previously-released singles, this time from the late ’50s and early ‘60s. “Because of the illustration on its sleeve (by Don Bronstein), the album is often called The Rockin' Chair Album, a nickname even added to the cover on some reissue pressings of the LP.” WK-R
Some of these songs have become well-known covers for other artists, including Koko Taylor’s cover of Wang Dang Doodle (1966, #4 RB). In 1963, Sam Cooke re-recorded The Red Rooster as “Little Red Rooster” (#7 RB, #11 US) and the Rolling Stones recorded it the following year, taking it all the way to #1 in the UK. Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” tapped lyrics from Shake for Me and Back Door Man. WK-R Cream covered Spoonful.
When, in 2012, Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time, they described it as “an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon.” WK-R In addition to his writing talents, Dixon, who was the Chess house producer, lent his bass-playing talents while Hubert Sumlin played guitar. SC The album, which Mojo magazine ranked as the third greatest guitar album of all time in 2004, WK-R “qualifies as one of pinnacles of early electric blues and is an essential album for any quality blues collection.” SC
Both albums have been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Combined, the two albums capture “the cream of Wolf’s Chicago blues work.” SC