book


B.B. WOLF and the HOWLERS ~ LINER NOTES

istory, they say, is written by the victorious. An adage as old as written history, perhaps, and one written, most certainly, by the same said victorious. And if taken as gospel, the wise and cynical man can, rightfully so, posit an inherent dishonesty in the supposed historical facts this adage speaks of. It would seem reasonable to assume a measure of prejudice in the recounting of one’s own deeds, especially when setting them down to the printed page for the purposes of posterity, for the very pointed purpose of creating one’s own immortality. And in truth it has become common for the modern scholar to question that which was once unquestioned, what was once accepted as gospel. The search for truth is nothing if not relentless, and advancements in the fields of medicine to archaeology to forensics have laid bare the lies, or at least the misconceptions, of past ‘truths’. Where once the great Dinosaurs roamed prehistoric Earth as gigantic, cold-blooded reptiles, they now exist as the warm-blooded ancestors to modern birds. Where once Polio ravaged a generation of the world’s children, now the disease lies near extinction, a relic of a comparatively archaic time. No longer is time the insurmountable obstacle of the homicide investigator, destroying all hope of redemption and justice with each passing hour. Advancements in DNA recognition and analysis have brought murderous deeds to light decades after their commitment. And through this, through all of this, we have seen not only our world, and the perception of our world, change, but we have seen history literally rewritten. It has come to pass that we know history as a fluid body, not the rigid, ‘written-in-stone’ entity we once believed it to be. The times they are a-changin’, my friends, and they are changing behind us as well as ahead.


t was with this perspective I began my journey of discovery into the American south of 1920, to the town of Money, Mississippi, and into the now infamous legend that is B.B. Wolf. If you are reading these notes, if you hold in your hands the recordings that have, after so many years lost, come to see the light of day once again, then you’ve no doubt come to know the broad strokes of the truth. You’ve heard the NPR interviews, you’ve seen the Dateline expose, and you’ve no doubt read the book this CD accompanies. If not, please set this down and do so. It is essential for understanding the ‘facts’ to come. For those who have read the book, here is a recap of what had been, for far too long, held as truth. Barnabus Benjamin Wolf was born to James and Esther Wolf in Money, Mississippi in or around 1887. No official record of his birth has ever been uncovered, and only a rough estimation of his age at time of death gives us this date. Of his parents we know little, but records of land holdings exist among many from the years of Reconstruction, and from these we were able to begin to piece together a family history. Further, a land deed in the name of one Barnabus Benjamin and Eleanor Kate Wolf, willed by one Romulus T. Lupine, was found in the Leflore County Archives. But only these two facts remained, a small testament to the life of B.B. Wolf and his family. These two only, that is, until the well, if not accurately, documented events of 1920. We all know the story. A story of misguided rage, unspeakable murder, and the eventual fall of a lost and tortured soul. Nearly a dozen deaths were attributed to the hands of B.B. Wolf, a seemingly simple and unassuming farmer and family man. Worse, among the murdered were his wife and children. Many could not fathom the direness of his actions, the depravity of a mind capable of such dastardly deeds. But the facts seemed to speak against him and, despite protestations from many of B.B.’s neighbors and surviving family, Mr. Wolf was found to be wanting by a jury of his ‘peers’, and put to death by electrocution late in the fall of 1920. For most this put to rest a dark nightmare. Justice, it seemed, had been served. And for those for whom justice had certainly miscarried, well, it is simply said that the cards were stacked squarely against them. The same system that had brought B.B. to a swift, if not righteous, justice, would also ensure the silencing of any dissenting voice to the contrary. Right or wrong, the life of B.B. Wolf had come to an end. And as the victors wrote, it was most certainly right.
And so it was written, and so the world believed. The legend of B.B. Wolf, murderer, was born. And lost was the truth of who B.B. Wolf was, and the influence he had during the early, formative years of the American Blues movement.



Wolf was a pioneer in the region and style that would become known as the Mississippi Delta Blues. Though many contest the presence of any substantial differences in music originating in the region, the characteristics commonly sited, the use of a bottleneck slide, the emphasis on rhythm, the wailing harmonica and soulful vocals, are certainly heard in these early recordings. With the discovery of these lost tracks, recorded nearly a decade before the first major recording of a Delta Blues artist, the influence B.B. Wolf had on such Blues greats as Big Dog Williams, Garfield Barkers, Willie Browncoat, Snoopy Pryor, Hound Dog Taylor, and Howlin’ Wolf (no known relation), is clearly seen.



ne can only speculate the further contributions he could have made to the form. His body of work is but a handful of songs contained in these recording, but his legend is now immense, and his life, for many, finally vindicated. Through research into the lost blues legend, I have uncovered never before seen letters leading me to B.B.’s descendants, one surviving grandson and many great-grand children. Interviews with his family, supported by documents retrieved from the Leflore County Archives have led me to believe in the innocence of B.B. Wolf. Further details and my complete notes pertaining to the false conviction of B.B. Wolf can be found in my book The Delta Runs Red. But I do feel it necessary here to thank B.B.’s grandson, Clifford J. Wolf, the director of the Leflore County Historical Society Margaret Bowers, and documentarian Kenneth Bacon, among so many others, for their invaluable assistance with my research.


also need to thank the blues community within this country. They are too numerous to list, but have been nothing but willing to finally bring the truth of B.B. Wolf to light. His life had become a fable, an oral tradition passed down through generations. A tale told and kept alive in the bars, juke joints, and blues clubs scattered across this land. Born of truth but believed by most now to be a parable, a metaphor for the all too familiar struggle of the Wolf. And powerful as the metaphor can be, the community, the world, has gained something ever more profound. The truth. The peace this has brought to the family of Mr. Wolf is immeasurable. The importance it holds to the family of Bluesmen who carry his legacy will surely come to light in the coming years. The courts of Leflore County have yet to overturn what was certainly a false verdict, condemning an innocent Wolf to death in the summer of 1920. We can only hope this final act of vindication comes in our lifetime.



ut for now, sit back, listen, and enjoy. Enjoy for the first time in nearly 90 years the pioneering genius that was B.B. Wolf. The driving rhythms of his guitar (known now to be called Molly), the soulful wails of the harmonica, and his voice, like velvet crushed under gravel, revealing a sadness deep and profound. We are blessed to have his music with us once again, a true piece of American history, returned to its rightful place in our collective consciousness, and are humbly proud to admit his innocence into the same.

 

 

book

All content copyright © and TM 2009 J.D. Arnold and Rich Koslowski. All rights reserved.

A