Howlin’ Wolf at War

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician

Howlin’ Wolf in the army, 1941.

This photo of Howlin’ Wolf in the Army, proudly wearing his campaign hat, the crown pinched in the style from World War I, should have been included in my last Howlin’ Wolf post, with the recently discovered photo of Wolf during the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941, where the caption identifies him only as Pvt. Chester Arthur Burnett (see below). According to sources quoted in Moanin’  at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf, by James Secrets and Mark Hoffman, Wolf played a bit during his army stint, but only in casual settings, such as the orderly room. Several individuals who heard him play or played with him are quoted, but not a lot of information is relayed in their unedited statements. 

Jesse Sublett, Austin author and musician

Chester Burnett AKA Howlin Wolf, on left, serving in the US Army.

Wolf’s army experience was traumatic. He suffered nervous breakdowns and was hospitalized for weeks before being given a discharge in 1943. Interestingly, the great songwriter, producer and bass player Willie Dixon, who worked with Wolf a great deal after Wolf moved to Chicago and signed with Chess, refused to serve and was imprisoned for ten months for that reason, for the reason that if he didn’t feel obligated to lay down his life for a country that didn’t treat people of color equally. I’ve always respected that about him. I’ll have to write a bit about Willie later on. Dixon, that is. As the saying goes, Willie wore a lot of hats in the music biz.

Willie Dixon, songwriter, producer, bandleader, conscientious objector.

Leave a Reply