Howlin' Wolf was a seminal figure in the development of the Chicago blues style. His fierce, growling voice, punctuated by his trademark falsetto 'howl,' carried with it the primitive energy of the country blues he learned as a young man on the Delta. He successfully made the transition between the country style and the urban style, and in doing so, he was one of a handful of artists who shaped and defined the emerging urban blues sound. Literally hundreds of artists (his contemporaries included) have claimed him as an influence, and equal numbers have recorded their own versions of his songs.
Howlin' Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 somewhere between West Point and Aberdeen, Mississippi. At age 13, his family moved to a plantation on the Mississippi River Delta near Ruleville, Mississippi. Prior to this move, Burnett's musical experience had been confined to singing in the Baptist church on Sundays. At age 18, his father gave him a guitar and around the same time he met Charley Patton, an influential blues performer. Taking a liking to the young man, Patton showed Burnett the basics of the Delta Blues style. For the next five years, Burnett farmed full time with his family while occasionally singing and playing at weekend fish fries and Saturday night parties.
In 1933, the Burnett family moved onto a plantation near Parkin, Arkansas, where Burnett learned to play harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson, another influential Delta blues musician. He teamed up with Williamson, abandoned farming, and began moving around the Delta. Playing in bars and on the streets, Burnett became "well known amongst the itinerant musicians of Mississippi...." During his wanderings, Burnett crossed paths with "almost every major Mississippi artist" but he seemed most impressed with Patton's brand of showmanship. Burnett incorporated some of Patton's act into his own, performing tricks such as dropping to his knees, or lying on his back while whooping and hollering.
Burnett continued to roam the Delta, singing and playing until 1941 when he was drafted. After his discharge in 1945, Burnett returned to Parkin for a brief period of time. He then farmed on his own in Penton, Mississippi for two years. In 1948, Burnett moved to West Memphis, Arkansas, formed a band of his own, and gave up farming in favor of a career in music. Touring Arkansas and Mississippi, Burnett and his band "built a solid reputation for themselves in the Delta jukes."