Howlin' Wolf

The Red Rooster

Composed by Willie Dixon

Song Review by

By the time Howlin' Wolf made it to Chicago, signed with Chess Records and released his first sides for them, the man was already 44 years old and had been playing an electric and electrifying form of the blues for nearly 20 years. By the time he recorded the blues standard "The Red Rooster," he was into his fifties and his already hard-edged voice was now a jagged, seasoned, and expressive instrument. He opens up this 1961 Howlin' Wolf (released 1962) recording with a master singer's attention to phrasing and note choice, milking out maximum emotion and nuance from the melody. He's joined by Chess session men Johnny Jones on piano, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Sam Lay on drums, and the song's author Willie Dixon on bass. Hubert Sumlin, a huge part of Wolf's Chicago records and stalwart sideman for the singer, backs Wolf's own slinky slide-guitar lick, which provides the backbone of the song. He can be heard teaching it to protégé Eric Clapton on the 1971 LP The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions.

Dixon's lyric is characteristically suggestive: "I had a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day/I had a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day/Keep everything in the barnyard, upset in every way/Oh, them dogs begin to bark, hounds begin to howl...Oh, watch out strange kin people, little red rooster's on the prowl."

The classic song has been recorded countless times, a warhorse for most late-'60s and 1970s classic rock acts. Blues aficionados the Rolling Stones recorded the track numerous times, initially on their third LP, Rolling Stones, Now!, a fairly faithful version with Brian Jones playing a mean slide and Bill Wyman imitating Dixon's acoustic bass. The Stones -- who took the song to number one on the British charts -- so loved Wolf that they insisted he be their guest when they were invited to appear on the American network television show Shindig! Sam Cooke also does a great swinging version on his 1963 LP Night Beat, with tremendous accompaniment by a young Billy Preston on organ, Barney Kessel on guitar, and Hal Blaine on the skins.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Rockin' Chair Album 1962 Music on Vinyl
No Image 1967 Chess
This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album 1969 Get On Down 3:48
The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions 1971 MCA 4:02
Moanin' in the Moonlight 1986 Chess / Geffen / MCA/Chess 2:29
Red Rooster 1988 IMP Classics
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Charly Records 2:24
No Image 1990 Chess
Rock & Roll Originators 1990
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 2:24
Demon Drivin' Blues Man 1991 Black Label (jazz & gospel) 5:44
The Chess Box 1991 MCA/Chess 2:29
The Wolf Is at Your Door 1992 New Rose Records
Chess Blues 1992
Various Artists
Chess 2:28
Blues Brother Soul Sister, Vol. 2 1994
Various Artists
Dino Entertainment 2:27
The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead 1995
Various Artists
Shanachie Records 2:23
The Genuine Article 1995 Chess 6:02
Highway 49 & Other Classics 1996 Intercontinental Records 5:34
Great Blues Album 1996
Various Artists
Goldies 3:47
Blues Classics [MCA] 1996
Various Artists
Geffen / Interscope 2:29
Blending the Blues 1996
Various Artists
Chess 2:28
Cause of It All 1997 Dove 5:33
Legends of Blues [Intercontinental] 1997
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 5:32
His Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection 1997 Geffen / Universal
The Chess Blues-Rock Songbook: The Classic Originals 1997
Various Artists
MCA / Chess / Universal 2:30
Chess Blues Classics: 1957-1967 1997
Various Artists
Chess 2:29
No Image 1998
Various Artists
Star Pool / Universal
Great 1998 Goldies 2:27
London Blues Festivals 1970-1972 1998
Various Artists
ITM Recording (Jazz) / Itm 1:58
His Best, Vol. 2 1999 Chess / MCA/Chess 5:55
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Goin' Down Slow 2000 Classic World Productions, Inc. 5:38
The Blues All Night Long 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 5:08
Sweet Home Blues 2000
Various Artists
Universal Special Products 3:51
Killing Floor [Magnum] 2001 Magnum (UK)
Legendary Masters Series 2001 Aim Records 5:42
Complete Natural Blues 2001
Various Artists
No Image 2002
Various Artists
Natural Blues, Vol. 2 2002
Various Artists
Wrasse 2:25
Roots of Stone 2003
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Blues-Rock Songbook: Millennium Collection - 20th Century Masters 2003
Various Artists
MCA 2:27
No Image 2003 Forever Gold (Allegiance)
Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Godfathers and Sons 2003
Original Soundtrack
Hip-O 2:27
No Image 2004 MCA / Universal Music
Mojo Chess Originals 2005
Various Artists
Chess 2:26
The Definitive Collection 2007 Geffen / Universal 2:27
No Image 2007 Universal Distribution 2:26
You Heard It Here First! 2008
Various Artists
Ace 2:29
A Brief History of the Blues 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:27
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:26
A Complete Introduction to Chess 2010
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Distribution 2:27
Smokestack Lightnin': The Best Of 2011 Universal Music 3:50
Belly Full of Blues 2011
Various Artists
Catbone Music / Wienerworld 5:41
The Willie Dixon Story 2012
Various Artists
Proper Box / Proper Records 2:27
The Influences Behind the Rolling Stones 2012
Various Artists
Hoo Doo Records 2:29
The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs: 1951-1962 2014 Acrobat 2:28
Blues Classics [Disky]
Various Artists
Blues Master Works Allegro Corporation / Delta Blues
Blues: Juke Box Hits
Various Artists
AAO Music / United Audio Entertainment 5:39
Chicago Blues: The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection
Various Artists
Big 3 2:27
Hot Hundred: Blues
Various Artists
Music Digital 2:46
How Britain Got the Blues, Vol. 3: How London Got the Blues
Various Artists
History of RnB Records / Rhythm & Blues / Rhythm and Blues 2:30
I Just Love the Blues
Various Artists
Music Digital 2:27
Original Blue & Lonesome
Various Artists
Black Knight 2:26
Rockin' Originals: Original Versions of Famous Songs
Various Artists
Hip-O / Universal 2:27
Smokestack Lightning Instant (UK)
The Vintage Collection: Blues
Various Artists
Music Digital 3:50
What A Wonderful World [Leader Music]
Various Artists
Leader Music 5:32
blue highlight denotes editor's pick