Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman Pantheon $200 Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters were and remain the two most iconic figures in Chicago blues. As instrumentalists, both were accomplished stylists, without being great technicians, and both owed many of their best known songs to the pen of bassist Willie Dixon - but as vocalists and bandleaders they were peerless. Waters outlived the Wolf by almost a decade, a period in which he enjoyed the popularity and critical acclaim he'd spent many long, hard years earning. Howlin' Wolf had most of his rewards posthumously, and even this substantial study of his life was beaten to the bookstores by Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied, the first serious biography of Waters. This shouldn't be the last shot at this subject over this length - almost 400 pages including the index and sessionography. The co-authors have dug up a phenomenal amount of information about Wolf's life, but seem to lack the investigative zeal to solve a few of its most interesting mysteries. One of these, glossed over in a page, is the question of whether or not Chester Burnett - Howlin' Wolf's real name - committed and got away with murder. It's asserted that he confessed to having taken the top of a man's head off with a hoe, with fatal consequences, and that several associates believed the story. Yet the authors appear to have taken little trouble to ascertain the facts pertaining to an obviously important event. The tendency to relay dubious assertions without subjecting them to much critical scrutiny is regrettably a hallmark of much blues scholarship, but the authors are on firmer ground with the facts of the recording sessions and do a good job of reconstructing the hardships of Burnett's upbringing. Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf are remembered for the powerful electric blues they played in Chicago, but neither was a city boy. Both first played acoustic blues reflecting the grinding poverty endured by blacks in the rural south, and even by those standards Wolf grew up the hard way. Rejected by a mother who refused to see him on his deathbed, brutally abused by an uncle in whose home he'd taken refuge, compelled to join the army in which he suffered a nervous breakdown, he had certainly paid his dues to sing the blues. And what blues they were. There are a number of possible reasons for Howlin' Wolf's stage name, of which he himself gave conflicting accounts, but the sheer feral power of his vocals made it unarguably apposite. The picture that emerges in this book is a confused and inconsistent one, but then again Howlin' Wolf was an inconsistent and many-faceted man. The book does a good job of putting his music into context and chronicling the circumstances under which it was made. Another biographer is needed to produce a more penetrating analysis of an enigmatic man.