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Single by Howlin' Wolf
B-side "Howlin' for My Darling"
Released 1960 (1960)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded Chess Studios, Chicago
June 1960 (1960-06)
Genre Blues
Length 2:45
Label Chess (Cat No. 1762)
Writer(s) Willie Dixon
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Phil Chess, Willie Dixon
Howlin' Wolf singles chronology
"I've Been Abused"/ "Mr. Airplane Man"
"Wang Dang Doodle"/ "Back Door Man"

"Spoonful" is a blues song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded in 1960 by Howlin' Wolf. Called "a stark and haunting work",[1] it is one of Dixon's best known and most interpreted songs. Etta James had a pop and R&B record chart hit with "Spoonful" in 1961 and it was popularized in the later 1960s by the British rock group Cream.


Dixon's "Spoonful" is loosely based on "A Spoonful Blues", a song recorded in 1929 by Charley Patton (Paramount 12869),[2] itself related to "All I Want Is A Spoonful" by Papa Charlie Jackson (1925) and "Cocaine Blues" by Luke Jordan (1927). The lyrics relate men's sometimes violent search to satisfy their cravings, with "a spoonful" used mostly as a metaphor for pleasures, which have been interpreted as sex, love, or drugs.[3]

It could be a spoonful of coffee, it could be a spoonful of tea
But one little spoon of your precious love, is good enough for me
Men lies about that spoonful, some of them dies about that spoonful
Some of them cries about that spoonful, but everybody fight about that spoonful ...

Howlin' Wolf versions[edit]

"Spoonful" has a one-chord, modal blues structure found in other songs Willie Dixon wrote for Howlin' Wolf, such as "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Back Door Man" as well as in Wolf's own "Smokestack Lightning". It uses eight-bar vocal sections with twelve-bar choruses and is performed at a medium blues tempo in the key of E.[4]

Backing Wolf (vocals) are: longtime accompanist Hubert Sumlin (guitar); relative newcomer Freddie Robinson (second guitar); and Chess recording veterans Otis Spann (piano), Fred Below (drums), and Dixon (double-bass). It has been suggested that Freddie King contributed the second guitar on "Spoonful", but both Sumlin and Robinson insist it was Robinson.[5] In 1962, the song was included on Wolf's second compilation album for Chess titled Howlin' Wolf.

In 1968, Wolf reluctantly re-recorded "Spoonful", along with several of his blues classics in Marshall Chess' attempt at updating Wolf's sound for the burgeoning rock market. Unlike his 1971 The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (Chess LP-60008) where he was backed by several rock stars, including Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, et al., here he was backed by relatively unknown studio session players. The resulting album, The Howlin' Wolf Album (Cadet Concept LPS-319), with its "comically bombastic" arrangements and instrumentation, was a musical and commercial failure.[6] Wolf offered his assessment in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine "Man ... that stuff's dogshit".[6]

Cream versions[edit]

Live version by Cream from the album Wheels of Fire
Released July–August 1968
Recorded Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco
March 10, 1968, 1st show
Genre Blues rock, acid rock
Length 16:48
Label Polydor (Cat. No. 583 031/2) (UK)
Atco (Cat. No. SD-2-700) (US)
Writer Willie Dixon
Producer Felix Pappalardi
Wheels of Fire track listing
Music sample
Studio version from Fresh Cream

The British blues-rock band Cream recorded "Spoonful" for their 1966 UK debut album, Fresh Cream. For the American release of Fresh Cream, "I Feel Free" was substituted for "Spoonful". The song was released in the US later in 1967 as a two-sided single (Atco 45-6522), but edited as Part 1 fades out as the instrumental break starts and Part 2 begins just before the third verse. The unedited studio version made its US album debut on the Best of Cream compilation in 1969.

Cream frequently played "Spoonful" in concert and the song evolved beyond the blues-rock form of the 1966 recording into a vehicle for extended improvised soloing influenced by the sixties San Francisco music scene. One such rendering, recorded at a Winterland concert and included on their 1968 album Wheels of Fire, lasts nearly seventeen minutes.

Other versions[edit]

"Spoonful" has also been recorded by artists such as Etta James for her albums At Last! (1961) and Life, Love & the Blues (1998), a jazz arrangement by Gil Evans from The Individualism of Gil Evans (1964), the Paul Butterfield Blues Band from What's Shakin' (1964, released 1966), The Blues Project on their album Live at The Cafe Au Go Go (1966), Allman Joys from Early Allman (1966, released in 1973), Canned Heat from Vintage (1966, released 1970), Shadows of Knight from Back Door Men (1966), Ten Years After from Ten Years After (1967), songwriter Willie Dixon from I Am the Blues (1970), Salty Dog from "Every Dog Has Its Day" (1990), Johnny Diesel from Short Cool Ones (1996), AG Weinberger from the album 1600 Transylvania Avenue (1999), Chris Whitley from Perfect Day (2000), Uli Jon Roth and Jack Bruce on the DVD Legends of Rock at Castle Donington (2002), and George Thorogood from 2120 South Michigan Ave.. The Grateful Dead included the song in their live repertoire from 1981 through 1994. Norwegian band My Midnight Creeps included a version of the song on their 2005 eponymous debut album. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters on their live album from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro in an 8:30 minute performance (2012). In 2013, Belgian singer Selah Sue recorded a version of the song for an Häagen-Dazs commercial featuring Bradley Cooper.[7] The Who often performed the song live in a medley format with the Johnny Kidd song Shakin' All Over.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" as one of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll".[8] It is also ranked #219 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[9] In 2010, the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame "Classics of Blues Recordings" category, noting that "Otis Rush has stated that Dixon presented 'Spoonful' to him, but the song didn't suit Rush's tastes and so it ended up with Wolf, and soon thereafter with Etta James".[10]


  1. ^ Janovitz, Bill. "Spoonful — Song Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  2. ^ Segrest 2004, p. 173.
  3. ^ LaRose 2006, pp. 923–924.
  4. ^ The Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1995. pp. 190–191. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1. 
  5. ^ Segrest 2004, p. 369.
  6. ^ a b Segrest 2004, pp. 249–250.
  7. ^ Eames, Tom (May 7, 2013). "Bradley Cooper becomes face of Häagen-Dazs ice cream - video". Digital Spy. Retrieved June 2, 2013. 
  8. ^ "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on September 11, 2007. Retrieved March 4, 2011. 
  9. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone (963). December 9, 2004. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Classic of Blues Recording — Singles or Album Tracks". Blues Hall of Fame — 2010 Inductees. The Blues Foundation. 2010. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 


  • Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Spoonful". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-252-8. 
  • LaRose, Joseph A (2006). "Spoonful (A Spoonful Blues)". In Komara, Edward. Encyclopedia of the Blues. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-92699-7. 
  • Segrest, James; Hoffman, Mark (2004). Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42246-3. 

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