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Howling Wolf's Photographer

My friend Sandy Schoenfeld of San Francisco really has his hands full these days. You see, Sandy was the photographer for the late, great bluesman extraordinaire, Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910â??January 10, 1976), better known as Howling Wolf. According to Sandy, Wolf preferred to be known as Howling (with a â??gâ?) Wolf rather than Howlinâ?? with an apostrophe like the record companies always used â?? he usually had Howling on his business cards, posters, and other materials. So thatâ??s how Iâ??ll refer to him here. Howling Wolf died in 1976 at the age of 65, leaving behind a legacy as the greatest bluesman to ever wax a hot blues number. (Fans of his arch rival, Muddy Waters, may contest that â??greatest bluesmanâ? appellation, but they can always go read some other blues blog if they want to â?? heh, heh! OK, OK, I'll admit it - Muddy was just as good as Wolf! Who am I kidding! They were both incredibly vital and talented musicians, just with different styles. Hey, I love 'em both, man!) Wolf was an imposing stage presence at 6â??6â? (or, some say, 6â??3â?) and around 300 pounds, wearing size 16 shoes, and with hands likened to catcherâ??s mitts. His voice has been compared to heavy machinery being operated on a gravel road - or, my favorite, â??shattered glass being dragged over hot asphalt.â? That second analogy is from the liner notes of Howlinâ?? Wolf: His Best (cover photo by Brian Smith) from the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. Written by Mark Humphrey, these liner notes go on to say that Wolfâ??s voice â??enabled him to register rage, paranoia, loneliness, and lust almost as a single emotion clenched into a taut vocal fist that punched like none other on earth.â? I couldnâ??t agree more. The manâ??s strongly emotive voice, skillfully interwoven with virtuoso guitar licks from his guitarist Hubert Sumlin (a guitar hero of Eric Clapton and other famous rockers), was like no other. According to Sandy, Wolf was also a very kind, centered man who treated his musicians fairly (although he could also be a stern taskmaster who expected professionalism at all times â?? i.e., no showing up for gigs late or drunk) and even paid them retirement and health benefits, which no other bandleader did at the time. Wolf and Sandy first met in July 1968 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, according to Sandy. Wolf had driven out from Chicago with his band members in a white Chevy station wagon pulling a small two-wheel trailer with the bandâ??s equipment. On the back was a sign depicting a silhouetted profile of a wolf howling at the moon and advertising â??The Original Howling Wolf and His Orchestra,â? complete with booking info. Theyâ??d HAD to drive, Wolf later told Sandy, in order to be able to keep any money they'd earn from what he said were the very low-paying gigs heâ??d been booked to doâ?¦ gigs including, in this case, the Avalon Ballroom (Family Dog Productions) and the Berkeley Blues Festival as well as other California venues. Sandy was a young San Francisco State student at the time and was also a budding photographer who worked part-time at Bank of America in the AV department. On that day in 1968, he borrowed a Nikon 35 mm camera from work and set out for the concert at the Avalon, where his mission was simply to hear Wolf, and if possible to meet him. Heâ??d only heard Wolf sing once, three years earlier, on a worn-out 45 rpm record, but that midnight freight train of a voice had stuck with him so strongly that when he learned Wolf was coming to town, he knew he had to meet him. Sandy got lucky. Before the show, he walked back to the dressing room, where Wolf was bantering with his band members and signing autographs for fans. According to Sandy, â??Wolf was intense, focused, happy, bigger than life and incredibly expressive. He focused on his upcoming sets, discussing fine points with his band, laughing about experiences from prior engagements, signing autographs, and sharing some humor with his band members.â? Then Wolf, having noticed that Sandy had been taking pictures of the dressing room scene, asked him, â??Hey, man, you a photographer?â? Sandy replied that he did photography and was also a student and a musician. And then, out of the blue, Wolf told Sandy that he needed some new publicity shots and business card photos, and that they were already very overdue because someone whoâ??d been expected to do it had not done so. Wolf asked Sandy if heâ??d like to shoot the photos for him, for a fee of course, and even told Sandy he could keep the rights. Once Sandy had picked his jaw up off the floor, he was able to stutter something to the effect that yes, heâ??d be delighted to accept the gig. Sandy went on to shoot roll after roll of concert photos of Wolf and more images of the great bluesman in his hotel room in San Franciscoâ??s Fillmore district. He also took lots of shots of Wolf in the parking lot outside, including the now-iconic #1 photo shown here â?? a photo that clearly shows the sheer joy Wolf felt when bellowing the blues. One of the band members also took a shot of Sandy with Wolf in the parking lot (seen at the top of this article), and even though Sandy stood on the balls of his feet on a concrete parking block for the photo, Wolf still towered over him. The Howling Wolf photos that Sandy took during that period have been used (some legally, some not) in countless ways, from painted adaptations to covers of highly regarded blues magazines such as Living Blues and Mojo to CD album coversâ?¦even a giant painted mural. In 1993, Sandyâ??s iconic photo was used in The Gapâ??s â??Howlinâ?? Wolf Wore Khakisâ? advertising campaign, and Sandy was eventually paid for that usage. He shot this photo of a Gap billboard from that campaign in San Francisco in 1993. But these days, with the Internet, there are more and more people using Sandyâ??s photos of Wolf without permission, so he has his hands full trying to find them all. These days heâ??s represented by Getty Images, the world's largest photo archive, and says that if need be Getty can use its legal power to help him rectify such infringements. One of Sandy’s photos appears on the website for the 2008 Sony Pictures movie Cadillac Records, which tells the story of Wolf, Muddy, Etta James, Little Walter, and Chuck Berry, along with record producer Leonard Chess, during the heyday of Chess Records in Chicago. The photo appears on the Cadillac Records site under the biography (scroll down) of Eamonn Walker, who turns in a fine (but way too brief) performance in the film as Wolf. Sandy is in negotiations to get paid for that usage. And yes, naturally I did get Sandyâ??s permission to use his photos in this article, as long as I provide proper credit and links to his site. Itâ??s only fair, after all. Cadillac Records is a great movie, by the way, even though it has some major omissions such as Leonard Chess' brother and business partner Phil Chess, and performers Bo Diddley (who I had the privilege to see perform here in Seattle before he died in June 2008), Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and John Lee Hooker, all of whom recorded for Chess at one time or another. The movie also suffers from some timeline flaws, such as showing Chuck Berry getting upset upon hearing the Beach Boys' Surfin' USA, which lifted Chuck's Sweet Little Sixteen melody note for note, and THEN going to prison for violating the Mann Act, when in fact he was sentenced to prison in 1959 and released in 1963, the year the Beach Boys ripped off his song.  Chuck was later credited as co-writer of the song. Another annoying thing they got wrong in the movie was Wolf's arrival in Chicago - he didn't arrive in no rusty ol' farmer truck, wearing farmer overalls like in the movie. Leonard Chess bought his contract from Sam Phillips of Memphis' Sun Records and lured Wolf to Chicago: "I had a 4,000 dollar car and 3,900 dollars in my pocket. I'm the onliest one drove out of the South like a gentleman," Wolf is known to have said. But hey, I get that they had to set up a contrast between him and Muddy, and they managed to do that, so I'm not complaining (well, maybe a little). A $4,000 car in 1953, by the way, was about the equivalent of a new Cadillac Escalade today - what, about $60,000 or so? Not no rusty ol' farmer truck, that's for sure. And Etta James did NOT have to audition for Leonard Chess in a hotel room! She already had several hit records by the time she came over to Chess Records, such as Roll With Me Henry (also known as The Wallflower and Dance With Me Henry), which was a #1 hit on the R&B charts and was soon after ripped off by Georgia Gibbs. Etta was also married to Harvey Fuqua of the doo-wop group the Moonglows in the early 1960s, but that was conveniently left out of the movie. Despite the omissions and errors, I still salute Cadillac Records for capturing the raw vitality of the Chess Records era and music. A total blues geek, I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the whole time as I watched it, except for occasional little twitches of displeasure when they got something wrong. While off on this Chess Records tangent, I'll also mention the other 2008 Chess Records movie, Who Do You Love? Haven't seen this yet, but from the cast list it doesn't look like Wolf is even in the movie. I looked to see who played Wolf, and there's no Wolf? Hello? That's like making a movie about Elvis without even mentioning his mama. These days Howling Wolf is finally getting the respect that’s his due, as a whole new generation learns all about his multilayered sound. Along with the popular movie Cadillac Records, there’s an award-winning biography out called Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf (cover photo by Peter Amft). Written by Mark Hoffman and James Segrest, this fascinating book paints a thoroughly researched picture of Wolf’s life, based on many sources, including interviews with guitarist Hubert Sumlin and other people who knew Wolf. This biography also includes Sandy's own transcribed 1968 interview with Wolf himself (which was never made public until the biography), so that - in Wolf's own words - the mystery of why 13-year-old Chester Burnett had to run away from home was finally cleared up, and where, upon finally reaching the famous Dockery Plantation where his father lived, Howlin' Wolf later met blues pioneer Charlie Patton and learned from him. Thereâ??s also an excellent documentary DVD available, called The Howlinâ?? Wolf Story: The Secret History of Rock & Roll, which features a number of Sandyâ??s photos as well as spoken interviews with Moaninâ?? at Midnight authors Hoffman and Segrest. To read the complete story of the time Sandy spent with Wolf, and see the many photos of Wolf that he offers for sale, go to Sandyâ??s website: Sandy also offers reproductions of the business cards he did for Wolf (I own a set, and they are very cool) as well as high-quality, hand-done photographic prints. Also be sure to check out Mark Hoffmanâ??s site: to learn more about Wolfâ??s life and his music.