A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Welcome to our new series highlighting the music we have here at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Each week of 2013 we will discuss one of our favorite songs from the collection. Classical or Country, Hip-Hop or Heavy Metal, we’ll be blogging for every taste.
“Goin’ Down Slow” was recorded in December, 1961 in the Chess studios at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. It was released as the B-side to “You’ll be Mine,” another classic Chicago blues song, but you could argue that “Goin’ Down Slow” is the more influential of the two. It’s been recorded by the likes of The Animals, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Ray Charles, and even Huey Lewis and the News.
There are a few things that make the song standout among Howlin Wolf’s recordings. For one, Howlin Wolf steps out of the spotlight a little and lets Willie Dixon take the verses in a smooth, bantering style that contrasts with the Wolf’s signature growl and grit in the chorus. But what really makes the song work is that pianist Henry Gray and guitarist Hubert Sumlin are allowed to run wild. Gray’s piano gives the song a nervy, unpredictable rhythm, while Sumlin takes a simple masterpiece of a solo that’s essentially the entire length of the song. Sumlin squeals and wails in long plaintive lines, sometimes bending away at a single note for as long as two or three measures, only occasionally breaking into bursts of quick but quiet notes under the vocals.
It all makes for the perfect accompaniment to the song’s tragicomic take on the traditional deathbed blues. Willie Dixon cracking wise about his wild life (“I did not say I was a millionaire/but I said I have spent more money than a millionaire”) while Howlin’ Wolf pleads for forgiveness (“Please write my mother/Tell her the shape I’m in/Tell her to pray for me/Forgive me for my sin”).
Review by Matthew