Chester Burnett was well known as the Howlin’ Wolf, and The Chess Box is an excellent three compact disc boxed set which is a fine survey of his compelling recordings starting with a healthy dose of his early Memphis recordings for Sam Phillips with the great Willie Johnson on guitar through his classic Chicago recordings with the likes of Otis Spann and Hubert Sumlin. While some of his later recordings perhaps showed the wear from his health, the music remains as gripping, whether on his reworking of Charlie Patton’s Saddle My Pony, Smoke Stack Lightning, How Many More Years, I Asked For Water, Rocking Daddy, Spoonful, Who’s Been Talking, Back Door Man, Killing Floor and others. There is one recording from his London session album with a variety of rock superstars, a couple of solo acoustic selections recorded at the otherwise best forgotten psychedelic album and some brief excerpts from an interview. The booklet contains biographical information and a review of his music. Another classic boxed set reissue.
One artist who diffused Robert Johnson’s music was Elmore James, whose most celebrated recording, Dust My Broom, married Johnson’s riff from Rambling on My Mind, with the lyrics for I’ll Believe
This review originally appeared in the December 1992 Jazz & Blues Report
(Issue 177) (along with reviews of Lightnin' Hopkins box sets that was posted yesterday). I likely received review copies from the record
companies. Both sets are available as downloads and can be obtained as
used (although Collectables has also has a box set of the Elmore). While not perfect, a recent public domain reissue of Elmore James, The Ultimate Collection (Not Now) is a handy compilation surveying his recordings from the entire span of his recording career although includes a few accompaniments to others as well as his featured recordings).