midweek music: “Smokestack Lightning”

In 2008, a wonderful movie called Cadillac Records was released, about the rise of Chess Records, who recorded a lot of the greatest Black musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, etc. There were no bad performances in the film — Jeffrey Wright played Waters, Adrien Brody played Leonard Chess, Beyoncé played James, Mos Def played Berry, Cedric the Entertainer played Dixon, Columbus Short played Walter, Eric Bogosian played Alan Freed, etc. — but the standout for me was Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf. Walker is a New York-based actor who has shown up in many things over the years and always been brilliant. (He was the charismatic Karim Said on Oz, he was the killer in the Homicide movie that served as a coda to the TV show, and for the last decade, he’s played Chief Walter Boden on Chicago Fire and the other Chicago shows.)

One of Howlin’ Wolf’s most popular songs is “Smokestack Lightning,” and Walker just tears through it in the version he recorded for the movie. Just amazing.

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