Let’s be honest, Howlin’ Wolf had probably the greatest voice to ever come out of a human being. It’s astonishing. I feel like a lot of America’s problems could be solved if they would just unite under the fact that that they live in the land of Howlin’ Wolf.
Gina Berrett is the director and producer of the upcoming Howlin’ Wolf Smokestack Lightning: The Legendary Howlin’ Wolf – something I’ve been excited to see for quite some time now.
You can see a teaser for the film here.
Do you remember the first time you heard Howlin’ Wolf?
I remember more hearing Charley Patton, who was Howlin’ Wolf’s mentor, for the first time. It was stunning because Patton sounded like no one else I’d ever heard. There’s no context for it from the music of that time and place. It’s like he was dropped to earth in the Mississippi Delta by aliens or something. Where did that sounds and voice come from? From there I really got into Wolf’s music, and over the years no matter how many times I might hear the same song or parts of a song over and over while I’m editing the film, I never get tired of it. I really love it. There are a lot of layers of meaning and emotion in his music. As the late Jim Dickinson says in the film, “It’s still here because it’s art. Pop music fades. Art lasts.”
Through your research for the film, do you feel like you’ve gotten a good sense of Howlin’ Wolf the person, not just the musician?
The more I learned about Wolf along the way, the more Wolf as a person emerged from behind his stage character – he was more than the funny clowning performer, or the stealth Taildragger. He was complex – intelligent, competitive, hardworking, and an incredibly charismatic man. I’ve put a lot of thought into who he was as a man and performer, and this is the basis of the film. He is an American hero.
In terms of making a documentary focusing on a figure who was born so long ago, have there been challenges in terms of gathering the material you need to tell the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it?
There was a lot of driving through Mississippi and Chicago, digging through old boxes finding Wolf’s living friends and relatives, a lot of adventure in that. It has been especially challenging finding material to tell the story of his earlier years of 1910-1950 in Mississippi, but I have figured out a creative way to tell the story. There were a few amazing discoveries of archival materials that I can’t wait to share in the film. The most important photo we found is one we had been unknowingly walking by in a hallway for a decade. It was 2 inches square and it was stapled to a cork board. That was a very good day.
There’s been some publicity regarding certain difficulties you’ve faced along the way with the making of the documentary. Where do things currently stand with regards to a release? When do you imagine people might be able to see the final product?
The recent news story actually happened two years ago and the case is in process of being settled. A year ago I decided to just rewrite and do the rough cut edit myself. It’s now ready for the final stages of postproduction. The film is looking great and it should be released in 2017. We’re launching an Indiegogo campaign February 7 2017 to raise the rest of the finishing funds. I learned a hard lesson to be careful who you work with, especially on creative projects.
Finally, what was the last thing (album, song, place, film etc) that you totally fell in love with?
I have been really loving the Amazon series Mr. Robot! Stunningly good story, sound design and music.