Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightnin’

From Moanin’ in the Moonlight (1959)

Wolf had performed “Smokestack Lightning” in one form or another at least by the early 1930s when he was performing with Charley Patton in small Delta communities. The song, called “a hypnotic one-chord drone piece”, draws on earlier blues, such as Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” (1928, Victor 21279), the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Stop and Listen Blues” (1930, OKeh 8807), and Charley Patton’s “Moon Going Down” (1930, Paramount 13014). Wolf said the song was inspired by watching trains in the night: “We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning.” In 1951, he recorded the song as “Crying at Daybreak”. It contains the line “O-oh smokestack lightnin’, shinin’, just like gold, oh don’t you hear me cryin'”, similar to the Mississippi Sheiks’ lyric “A-ah, smokestack lightnin’, that bell shine just like gold, now don’t you hear me talkin'”.

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