Howlin’ Wolf favored a sexual metaphor—or rather, he literalized one when he played the song in his shows. He’d grab a big cooking spoon that drummer Sam Lay bought him at a flea market and brandish it at crotch-level, engaging in blatantly phallic monkeyshines. Wolf would work this raunchy shtick no matter the crowd. On two occasions—a benefit for a black Little League team, the other the International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., before an audience of gowned and tuxedoed dignitaries—many were not amused. At the benefit, someone closed the stage curtains on Wolf to spare the kiddies the sight of him getting busy with a kitchen utensil.
Howlin’ Wolf recorded “Spoonful” in 1960, backed by a top-notch studio band comprising the guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Freddie Robinson, pianist Otis Spann, Fred Below on drums, and Dixon on the double-bass. But its origins, like those of several other Dixon compositions on Rocking Chair, go back several decades further. It’s adapted (loosely) from Charley Patton’s 1929 “A Spoonful Blues”, which derives from Papa Charlie Jackson’s 1925 recording, “All I Want Is a Spoonful”. The song’s tailor-made for Wolf; like his own “Smokestack Lightnin’” and “I Asked Her for Water”, it’s the kind of modal chant with which he crafted his incomparable brand of gripping drama.
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