Journal Time: On The Banks Of The Milwaukee River a Wolf Learned To Howl

Journal Time: On The Banks Of The Milwaukee River a Wolf Learned To Howl June 16, 2016

Three and a half miles from my house runs the Milwaukee River.  Not too big, not too impressive, bearing the name of a city of the same characteristics.   When I first moved out of the city and north I didn’t know too much about the area.  What was there to know?  I assumed it was, like all other small Wisconsin towns, a German settlement from back in the 1800s.  I was a little worried about moving out of the city.  I questioned if my creativity would suffer, if the lack of multi-cultural splatter would drain and dull my mental workshop.  After all, Wisconsin soil only knows corn, soy and cow hooves … No Frank Lloyd Wright, no Carl Sandburg, no Muddy Waters echoing in these trees … or so I thought …

Three and a half miles from my house runs the Milwaukee River where the Wisconsin Chair Factory used to rest on its bank.  Around the turn of the century, in an effort to sell more chairs, the company began using artists from the delta to make records in an effort to promote and sell their chairs.  Artists like Charlie Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson came up from the south and recorded right on that river dirt.  These records became so popular that they demanded to be organized and managed and Paramount Records was born.  These records went out, traveled and spun, spun and traveled.  Some went north and east; some went west and south.

Some in the hands of a boy named Chester Burnett.  Chester became a fan of these bluesmen and eventually tracked down his idol, Charlie Patton.  The two became friends and Charlie taught Chester to play guitar and feel the blues.  Chester started playing and writing, took on the name Howlin’ Wolf, and made some records of his own.  Those records traveled and spun, spun and traveled and flew across the ocean into the hands of young British boys and girls.  Those British boys and girls learned how to play guitar and feel the blues too and emulated what they heard.  Some of them got pretty good and started making records of their own.  Their records spun and traveled and traveled and spun right back over the ocean and landed in the Billboard charts.  When invited to play the popular music show called Shindig!, one of these bands insisted on inviting and introducing their idol Howlin’ Wolf, who otherwise couldn’t get TV or radio, to play the show with them.  This introduction not only served the show’s audience, but was an introduction of Howlin’ Wolf to the American public in general.  The world changed right on top of that dirt three and a half miles from my house.

Dirt does not define where the mystery dwells it only supports it.  Find your dirt, plant your feet and make something spin.  And when you’ve poured into your craft, made your space resonate and need your rest … sit back and listen … you might just hear the faint howlin’ of a wolf flying over head.

Howlin’ Wolf Is Invited To Play: How Many More Years

For More From Mike Mangione go to www.mikemangione.com

 


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