Howlin’ on the Crow

When your troubles in this fallen world grow and grow

Blast them all away with heaps of The Wolf ‘n Crow

Far too many people never get to fulfill their destinies. When you see someone who is a genius in their field, you’re witnessing fate at its most noble level. Watching Neil Young make ears bleed from the stage, Meryl Streep transform on the screen, LeBron James making everyone else on the court look like semi-coordinated wannabes, is seeing someone who has reached their potential and is doing exactly what they were put here to do. 

Whenever I see something like that, I get really wistful for what would have been one of the greatest films roles of all time: Michael Clarke Duncan as Howlin’ Wolf (birth name Chester Burnett). 

Duncan had the size, the acting chops and, probably most importantly, that deep as Hades voice to be The Wolf. After watching him in The Green Mile, I knew that Duncan was born to play the Wolf on the big screen. After his death, I can’t see anyone else pulling it off. The world was denied one of the greatest film performances of all time. This is all conjecture now, but I think Duncan would have killed the Wolf role. 

On principal I didn’t see Cadillac Records about the great Chess record label (the best record label in history, where the 2nd Stones album was recorded as well as The Yardbird’s “Train Kept a Rollin”, featuring the greatest guitar solo in the history of the universe by Jeff Beck, the greatest guitarist you’ve never heard of) where The Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and so many other greats recorded as MCD wasn’t cast in the role of Wolf. 

Maybe Duncan wouldn’t have been able to reasonably approximate (we know NO ONE would be able to actually duplicate) The Wolf’s earthquake singing, but I like to dream. If Joaquim Phoenix could eventually get sort of close to Cash’s baritone (I heard it was sketchy for a while and that his voice was almost dubbed), then Duncan, whose voice was much closer to Wolf’s than Phoenix to Cash’s, could surely pull it off, right? (Best case, Duncan had some musical schooling so that he’d do the best rock music portrayal this side of Jamie Foxx as Ray. I still hold out hope for whenever Nikki Sixx decides to finally film The Dirt; thank Christ he didn’t accept Gene Simmons’s offer to buy it. They’d have been reduced to bad VH1 hair metal movie caricatures years ago when they’re destiny is to be Big Screen Glam Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong Caricatures in every multiplex in the world. Something tells me that Roman Polanski is the one for the job.)

The Wolf NEEDS to have a film all to himself like Elvis, Cash and Charles. (Sorry, Great Balls of Fire was too depressingly bad to include. Maybe Mickey Rourke has an illegitimate son somewhere who was raised in the back of a swamp juke joint; that’s the only person who could conceivably have the pedigree to pull off The Killer.) He’s the baddest blues singer of all time, a force of nature who always put on a great show and laid down sides whose power will never be matched. (Best record review I’ve ever read was about Wolf’s The Wolf at Your Door: “And old man who gets more than you ever will sings about how he gets more than you ever will.”) 

His early personal life was extremely sad as he was kicked out of his mother’s house as a preteen for following the devil’s music. There’s a scene late in his life that would have absolutely gotten Duncan an Oscar. Wolf was touring in Mississippi, his birth state and home until his early 40s, close to where he was born when he was in his early 60s. He received word that his mother was still alive. He tracked her down and tried to make amends with her, attempting to slip her what one of his band members claims was a $10,000 bill. (Wolf always carried huge wads of cash because whose gonna rob the Wolf?) 

She stopped him, threw the money in his face, saying she didn’t want his devil’s money and stormed off. Wolf collapsed to the ground, crying. (I saw Mike Tyson’s one man show where there were far too many REAL hard men. The best part of the show was when Tyson spoke of how awful he felt that when he was a kid and his mother died there wasn’t any money to get her a proper tombstone. When he came into money, he bought her the biggest tombstone in the cemetery. A shot of the tombstone showed on the screen behind him. Hundreds of ex and future cons around the arena started to cry. Lost/denied motherhood gets everyone every time).

No one is like the Wolf today. After John Lee Hooker died, there’s none of the old guys left except for BB King, who is good and all but not real blood and gutbucket aural drink like The Wolf and Hooker. When Wolf went into the ground 6 months before this country’s bicentennial, the world lost something that will never be replaced. I think of this whenever my funds are dwindling, and I’m forced to drink Old Crow whiskey. 

Crow was first given to me as a Christmas present back in my early years stateside as I was (am) the guy who will drink anything (except Wanker Piss). At first I was excited as I heard it was one Mark Twain’s favorite drinks. My excitement immediately plummeted when my esophagus was pulverized by this screwed up, cheapened mash experiment gone wrong. After a while when the shock wore off, I came to sort of appreciate the Crow for what it is: a reliable, affordable buzz/drunk delivery system. Mixed with the right additives, it’s fairly palatable. However, I could not believe that this is the same libation that Master Twain quaffed down. 

 Investigating this, I learned the original Crow recipe was lost decades ago after the company producing it was sold. Supposedly, back in the 1800s it was considered one of the best bourbons out there and was extremely popular with every strata of society from street urchins guzzling it down in back alleys to U.S. Senators sucking it down on the Senate floor. (19th century Americans drank as much whiskey/bourbon as any century Russians vodka). Ulysses S. Grant drank it constantly as the tide turned during the Civil War. When government and army officials complained to Lincoln about Grant’s wet, wet ways, Lincoln stated that all of his generals should be sent a barrel of the Crow if it would make them perform like Grant. 

So, Old Crow had a direct hand in ensuring that the Wolf was born a free man 55 years after Grant’s acceptance of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. So, similar to how those aspiring to be The Wolf, whether in the today’s blues, heavy metal (Lemmy anyone?) and even rap (Mystikal would not exist with The Wolf), are only a pale imitations of the primal, towering original, the Old Crow we get today is only a shadow of past greatness. Even still, the original greatness comes through. Listen to Wolf’s “Spoonful” next to Cream’s and you get an approximation of how much better the O.G. Crow was compared to today’s. Maybe in another world we’ll get to hear and see Duncan as The Wolf while drinking the libation that helped free the ancestors of the blues. Cha bhi fios aire math an tobair gus an tràigh e.

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