I was first inspired to do this project from hearing the Paul Rodgers’ CD ‘Muddy Water Blues’. I thought it was so slick of him to write a theme track with which to bookend all the blues covers [and make a bit of that songwriting/publishing money in the process]. You can tell that Paul had lived with those classic songs long enough to be able to re interpret them and make them his own. He succeeded wonderfully. I remember thinking then that this was THE blueprint for a ‘blues tribute’ type project. I did some due diligence on the internet and found that, while there were a few such albums, none were titled ‘Tracking Down The Wolf’. I was good to go.
“Where the Soul of Man Never Dies”
The idea for the title track came to me while I was touring in Florida. I sang the chorus melody into my cell phone while watching iguanas sun themselves by a canal in Boca Raton. The arrangement lent itself perfectly to open G (Sebastopol) tuning on the guitar. I found the lyric “where the soul of man never dies” online at wikipedia.com. Sam Philips, Howlin’ Wolf’s first record producer, is quoted as saying: “When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, this is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies’’. Perfect. Thank you, Mr. Phillips!
Tracking Down a Song
The verses of TDTW were written with my great friend and musical partner Jeff Poppinga while we were driving to a show in Northern California. Jeff had never heard of Howlin’ Wolf, so I explained to him a bit of his back story and about some of the traditional blues mythologies. Half hour later we had it done — two verses and a dandy two line bridge. Now that’s songwriting! Thank you Jeff. We did a quickie demo that night after the gig and I was off and running.
Plan A-Plan B
The first plan for producing this project was with a big budget investor and a famous blues rock singer all neatly lined up. Then, the money went away, and just as quickly, so did the singer. So, in typical indie fashion I said, “I’ll do it myself”. And I’m so glad I did. What a journey I would have missed if I hadn’t. Thank you guys.
I’ve know that there are a lot folks who have never heard of Howlin’ Wolf. So, in selecting which songs to include in this collection, I decided to use only the most popular standards in the Wolf catalog.To reinvent these classics yet again in fresh and creative ways was quite challenge. But a challenge that I couldn’t resist.
Help From My Heroes
But rather than completely reinventing each song from scratch, I had some of my all-time musical heroes guiding me along the way. 'Tracking Down the Wolf’ mixes the Rolling Sones with a bit of Leon Russell. Billy Boy Arnolds' ‘Come Back Baby’ inspired ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’.
’Going Down Slow’ was influenced by the late great Bobby Womack’s ‘Nobody Wants You’. The incredible Little Willie Johns’ original version of ‘Fever’ informed ‘Spoonful’.
‘Smoke Stack Lightning’ has my guitar quoting classic Humbert Sumlin and early Eric Clapton licks. I approached ‘Sitting On Top Of the World’ by using some of the more obscure verses from the Mississippi Sheiks version of the 1930s, and the chorus melody from rock-a-billy king Carl Perkins. And, I definitely had Charlie Patton’s ‘Shake it - Don’t Break It’ on my mind when I cut ‘Killing Floor’. Albert King’s ‘Cross Cut Saw’ lead me to find my own way to ‘Evil [is going on]’.
And finally, ’Wang Dang Doodle’ was given the complete John Lee Hooker treatment, abet in cut time boogie shuffle. If you get a moment, please check out all these incredible artists.
Help From My Friends
And I had a lot of help from my fabulous musician friends as well. David Clark came in to play all those funky and melodic bass lines you hear. Omar Martinez spent a lot of time with me tracking drums, percussion and all those amazing backing vocal parts. Mark Ishikawa played the perfect piano part on TDTW, and tasty organ parts on ‘Back Door Man’ and 'Sitting On Top Of The World’. And my long time friend Jack Jacobsen tracked the burning Hammond organ you hear on ‘Smoke Stack Lightning’. Super talented musician/artist Ben Reno laid in the grooving percussion on ‘Spoonful’. Thank you all!