How Many More Years
|"How Many More Years"|
|Single by Howlin' Wolf|
|B-side||"Moanin' at Midnight"|
|Format||7" 45 rpm & 10" 78 rpm records|
|Recorded||Memphis Recording Service, July 1951|
|Label||Chess (Cat. no. 1479)|
Originally credited to Carl Germany
|Howlin' Wolf singles chronology|
"How Many More Years" is a blues song written and originally recorded by Howlin' Wolf (born Chester Burnett) in July 1951. Recorded at the Memphis Recording Service – which later became the Sun Studio – it was released by Chess Records and reached no.4 on the Billboard R&B chart. Musician and record producer T-Bone Burnett has described "How Many More Years" as "in some ways... the first rock’n’roll song...". It was a double-sided hit with "Moanin' at Midnight", which reached no.10 on the R&B chart.
Original recording and release
After military service, Chester Burnett performed as a blues singer and formed his own band in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1948, billing himself as "The Howlin' Wolf". He began broadcasting on radio station KWEM in West Memphis, and was heard by Sam Phillips who signed him for Memphis Recording Service.
He recorded "How Many More Years" at the MRS studio at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, in or about July 1951, singing and playing harmonica with a band comprising (probably) Ike Turner (piano), Willie Johnson (guitar), and Willie Steele (drums). The repetitious bass-string boogie line resembles the one played in the traditional blues standard "Forty-Four". The record's original A-side, "Moanin' at Midnight", described by Phillips as "the most different record I ever heard", was probably recorded at a different session.
Phillips had not yet set up Sun Records and regularly leased his recordings to the Chess label in Chicago. The record was issued as Chess 1479 on 15 September 1951, with "Moanin' at Midnight" as the A-side and "How Many More Years" as the B-side. "Moanin' at Midnight" entered the R&B chart on 10 November 1951, and was followed four weeks later by "How Many More Years", which became the more popular side and rose to no.4 on the chart.
The songwriting for both sides of the record was originally credited to Carl Germany, who was a disc jockey and dance promoter in Chicago. The Chess label occasionally used composer credits on their records to repay favors to local businessmen who had helped their record sales. Later reissues of the recordings have given the songwriting credits to Chester Burnett.
Following the record's success, Burnett moved to Chicago in 1953, and developed his career further in clubs and through recordings there, with a new band.
"“The first major breakthrough Sam [Phillips] made was with Howlin' Wolf. That's when he started bringing the bass and drums up loud. Back in those days the bass and drums were background instruments; it was all about the horns and the piano, the melody instruments, and Sam brought the rhythm section right up front, and that became rock 'n' roll. That was a big shift.... In some ways "How Many More Years" by Wolf would be the first rock ’n’ roll song because that has the guitar lick that became the central guitar lick in rock 'n' roll, and that's the first time we heard that played on a distorted guitar. It was an old big band lick, turned into something completely fresh."
- Alastair Mackay, "Cosmic Ceiling Tiles, Elvis Presley, and the Abiding Genius of Sam Phillips: What Made Sun the Crucible of Rock'n'Roll?", Alternatives to Valium, 2 August 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2014
- Humphrey, Mark (2007). The Definitive Collection (CD liner). Howlin' Wolf. United States: Geffen Records/Chess Records. B0008784-02/CHD-9375 BK02.
- "How Many More Years", Blues Hall of Fame. Retrieved 20 February 2014
- Headlam, Dave (2001). "Forty Four". Living Blues. Center for the Study of Southern Culture (154): 69.
- Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 200.
- Robert Palmer, "Church of the Sonic Guitar", pp. 13–38 in Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense, Duke University Press, 1992, pp. 24–27. ISBN 0-8223-1265-4.