Little Red Rooster
|"The Red Rooster"|
|Single by Howlin' Wolf|
|B-side||"Shake for Me"|
|Format||7" 45 RPM|
|Recorded||June 1961 in Chicago, Illinois|
|Producer||Leonard Chess, Phil Chess, Willie Dixon|
|Howlin' Wolf singles chronology|
"Little Red Rooster" (or "The Red Rooster" as it was first titled) is a song that is a classic of the blues. Howlin' Wolf recorded "The Red Rooster" in 1961, a song credited to blues arranger and songwriter Willie Dixon, although earlier songs have been cited as inspiration. A variety of performers have interpreted it, including Sam Cooke, Willie Mabon, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones, who had important record chart successes with the song.
Earlier songs 
The rooster is a theme in several blues songs from the 1920s and 1930s, with Charlie Patton's "Banty Rooster Blues" (1929 Paramount 12792) being identified as "obviously inspiring" "Little Red Rooster". Although musically the songs are different, there are some similarities in the lyrics. Patton's song includes "What you want with a rooster, he won't crow 'fore day" and "I know my dog anywhere I hear him bark", analogous to Dixon's "I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow 'fore day" and "Oh the dogs begin to bark..." Memphis Minnie's "If You See My Rooster (Please Run Him Home)" (1936 Vocalion 03285) contain the lyrics "If you see my rooster, please run 'im on back home", similar to Dixon's "If you see my little red rooster, please drive 'im home".
In 1950, Margie Day with the Griffin Brothers recorded an uptempo jump blues titled "Little Red Rooster" (Dot 1019). The song was described as "pack[ing] a load of oomph into this tangy up blues, with okay combo boogie in back". The song was a hit, reaching number five in the Billboard R&B chart in 1951. Day's lyrics include "Got a little red rooster, and man how he can crow...He's a boss of the barnyard, any ol' place he goes". The song is credited to Edward and James Griffin and, although it is titled "Little Red Rooster", it is not the same musically or lyrically as the Dixon song.
Howlin' Wolf song 
In 1961, Howlin' Wolf recorded "The Red Rooster". The song is a slow blues that features distinctive slide guitar accompaniment and Wolf's "master singer's attention to phrasing and note choice, milking out maximum emotion and nuance from the melody". Backing Wolf (vocals, guitar) were Hubert Sumlin (guitar), Johnny Jones (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and Sam Lay (drums).
"The Red Rooster" was one in a string of Willie Dixon-penned songs that Howlin' Wolf recorded in the early 1960s that were later popularized by rock artists ("Back Door Man" – The Doors, "Spoonful" – Cream, "Little Red Rooster" – The Rolling Stones, and "I Ain't Superstitious" – The Jeff Beck Group). Wolf later recorded "The Red Rooster" with several rock figures (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts) for his 1971 album The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions. At the beginning of the song, Howlin' Wolf can be heard attempting to explain the timing of the song's changes. Clapton (joined in by the others) encourages Wolf to play it on guitar so "I can follow you if I can see what you're doing."
Sam Cooke version 
In 1963, Sam Cooke released his version of Willie Dixon's song, calling it "Little Red Rooster." The song was a hit, reaching number seven on the Billboard R&B chart. It was also a cross-over hit, reaching number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. "Little Red Rooster" used Dixon's lyrics, but the backing arrangement was changed in keeping with Cooke's "soul music" approach.Cooke's version featured an organ that imitated the sounds of a Rooster crowing, as well as dogs barking and the hounds howling. Ray Charles, piano, and a young Billy Preston, organ, played on this recording.
Rolling Stones version 
|"Little Red Rooster"|
|Single by The Rolling Stones|
|B-side||"Off the Hook"|
|Released||13 November 1964|
|Format||7" 45 RPM|
|Recorded||1964 at Chess Studios, Chicago, Illinois|
|Label||Decca F 12014|
|Producer||Andrew Loog Oldham|
|The Rolling Stones (UK) singles chronology|
Following Sam Cooke's success, the Rolling Stones recorded their version of "Little Red Rooster" in 1964. The recording session took place at the Chess Studios in Chicago, the same studios where Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, et al. recorded their blues classics (the Rolling Stones instrumental "2120 South Michigan Avenue" was named after the studio's address). The song reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 5 December 1964 where it stayed for one week. It remains to this day the only time a blues song has ever topped the British pop charts. The song generally follows the original with Brian Jones contributing the distinctive slide guitar part and an effective harmonica part on the outro (although Mick Jagger would mime to the latter instrument on television appearances). It was the band's last cover song to be released as a single during the 1960s; subsequent singles would be self-penned efforts. The Rolling Stones version of the song was based on Sam Cooke's version, however, the third verse about the "Hens fighting among themselves" was omitted in their version.
"Little Red Rooster" was not released as a single in the US, but was included on the 1965 album The Rolling Stones, Now!. The Rolling Stones performed the song on several American television shows in 1965, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, and Shivaree (at their insistence, Howlin' Wolf also performed on Shindig!, where he was introduced by Brian Jones). "Little Red Rooster" also appeared on their 1989 compilation, Singles Collection: The London Years. Love You Live, a 1977 live double album contained the song, as well as Flashpoint, a live album recorded during the Rolling Stones' 1989–1990 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour. It was taken from a 1989 show at Shea Stadium in New York, with Eric Clapton on slide guitar.
Other versions 
"Little Red Rooster" has also been covered by many other artists including Big Mama Thornton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Luther Allison, Carla Thomas, Cuby and the Blizzards, James Blood Ulmer, The Persuasions, The Grateful Dead, The Doors (with John Sebastian on harmonica originally on the Alive, She Cried live album and later on the same album as part of the In Concert live double album), The Roosters, Otis Rush, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Pussy Galore, Pappo, Los Piojos, and Arno Hintjens. The song's author Willie Dixon recorded it on his 1970 album I Am The Blues.
- "Reviews of New Singles". Billboard: 42. April 9, 1955. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
- Chess Blues 1947–1967 (CD liner). various artists. United States: Chess/MCA Records. 1992. CHD4-9340. http://aln2.albumlinernotes.com/Chess_Blues_-_Disc_4.html.
- Janovitz, Bill. "The Red Rooster – song review". allmusic. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
- Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 467. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
- The Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1995. p. 117. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1.
- "Margie Day – record review". Billboard 62 (51): 25. December 23, 1950.
- Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 613. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
- Day's website states that her song was written by Kay Griffin with help from Day herself. Margie Day at Centerstage Children's Theatre
- Online discussion of "Little Red Rooster"
- "The Red Rooster" (with false start and dialogue), Howlin' Wolf: The Chess Box, Chess/MCA CHD3-9332 (1991).
- The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated History of Popular Music 8 (Reference ed.). Marshall Cavendish. 1990. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/1-85436-023-4|1-85436-023-4 [[Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs]]]] Check
- Chart Stats
- Egan, Sean (2006). The Rough Guide to the Rolling Stones. Rough Guides. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-84353-719-9.
- "The Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
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