One Song/Three Versions – Killing Floor

The song “Killing Floor” was written by Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf. I wrote about Wolf in my review of Peter Guralnick’s Sam Phillips book. There was no artist that Phillips loved more than the Wolf.

So, killing floor. What does it mean? Well

According to blues guitarist and longtime Wolf associate Hubert Sumlin, the song uses the killing floor – the area of a slaughterhouse where animals are killed – as a metaphor or allegory for male-female relationships: “Down on the killing floor – that means a woman has you down, she went out of her way to try to kill you. She at the peak of doing it, and you got away now … You know people have wished they was dead – you been treated so bad that sometimes you just say, ‘Oh Lord have mercy.’ You’d rather be six feet in the ground.

How many times have I said that exact same fucking thing? The song is only a couple of minutes long but it has been highly influential in the blues world. Here’s Howlin’ Wolf:

When he first got to London, Jimi Hendrix’s manager Chas Chandler asked if he could jam with Cream. According to MusicRadar: “Clapton couldn’t have anticipated what was about to unfold. ‘He was very, very flash – even in the dressing room,’, Clapton said. ‘He stood in front of the mirror combing his hair and asked if he could jam. He played “Killing Floor,” a Howlin’ Wolf number I’d always wanted to play but which I’d never had the complete technique to do.”

The effect on Clapton was undoubtedly cataclysmic, shattering any preconceptions about blues guitar – and his confidence. Writer Keith Altham was present. ‘Hendrix blew into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” at breakneck speed, just like that – stopped you in your tracks.’

Chas Chandler went backstage to find Clapton puffing nervously on a cigarette. ‘You never told me he was that fucking good,”’Clapton is reported as saying. Chandler later recalled, ‘When we first met in New York, Jimi knew all about the guitarists in Britain and asked if he’d get to meet Eric Clapton. I told him that once he got over, he’d show Clapton how it was done, which of course he did.’ Ouch!

You will of course recognize the killing floor reference from Led Zep’s “Lemon Song.” Hard to believe, but even after getting sued for “borrowing” on their first album, they went ahead and did it again. So, they had to later add Burnett’s name to the song and pay him royalties. Thank God they solved that problem before doing “Stairway.”

But much as I love “Lemon Song,” I”m gonna go with the version that inspired this post in the first place. Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials have been around seemingly forever. According to their bio:

In Chicago, a city overflowing with unrivaled blues talent, world-renowned Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials have been standing tall for over 30 years. The band’s big sound, fueled by Lil’ Ed’s gloriously rollicking slide work and deep blues string bending, along with his rough-edged, soulful vocals, is as real and hard-hitting as Chicago blues gets.

Looks like they play mostly around Chicago these days, and, wisely, head down to Florida in the winter. Love the horns and slide guitar on this.

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – Killing Floor

  1. Ive listened to the original to many times to count. I love it. Not 0nly was his music copied his vocals were also borrowed. Two things i have learned over the years following music. You didn’t mess with the Wolf or Otis Redding

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    1. Words to live by. I always get a kick out of the Clapton/Hendrix encounter. Eric is God, right? Then along comes this Black American dude who wipes the floor with him. The artist’s ego is so fragile. I bet a lot of actors were shattered when Brando shows up in ‘Streetcar’ in 1947.

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      1. Takes a while for folks to get comfortable with themselves. Some never do. Cash had some great things to say about his peers. Jerry Lee was a special kind of cat according to Johnny. He wasnt “fragile” he was just the best. No argument.

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        1. Eric got over it eventually I think. Recall this was in ’66 and Jimi died in ’70. So they became friends and I think Eric allowed himself to settle into number 2 which is, at least, where Rolling Stone put him. Don’t forget too that a lot of great players have come along since then. Neither Clapton nor Hendrix could hold John McLaughlin’s guitar case when it came to playing. Even on my level I find this, I think I’m doing well and then I dial up some 17-year-old chick on YouTube or something blowing through Steely Dan solos like it’s nothing. Playing an instrument is very humbling.

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        2. Im a huge john Mac fan. Not going to argue on his playing. Unbelievable.
          I give RS as much time as I give the news stations up here. If it wasn’t for you (and a couple others) I would have no idea what they’re up to. In a couple of your posts/Comments over the time we’ve hooked up it just confirms that I have lost touch..

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        3. Rolling Stone sucks now largely because the acts they cover suck and they’ve changed ownership. But trust me when I say it used to be great not only in covering music in depth but also journalistically. That’s where I first read Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” in-depth articles on Scientology, Brian Wilson’s nutjob therapist, and Altamont. Plus great music reviews and interviews with the likes of Dylan and Lennon. It was a total counterculture rag when that seemed to matter. It’s not a stretch to say I learned how to write about music from RS. And that I got into more than a few bands due to their reviews.

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        4. I used to read it years ago. Lots of leads to good music. I still have a box of them. 70s issues. I remember one cool cover where Springsteen is ice skating outside on a river or lake. Great shot. Yeah some good articles by some good writers. You missed your decade Doc.

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        5. At that point in my life, if it had even occurred to me to do that, I would have assumed jobs like that were for other people. Writing for RS seemed about as attainable as going to the moon. You reminded me of something, though. I knew this guy’s sister Ronnie. A group of us would go over to her house and listen to Taj Mahal and stuff like that. I never met the guy, but I was duly impressed that he wrote for the mag.
          https://www.rollingstone.com/author/russell-gersten/

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    1. I’m inclined to agree. Sounds like it’d be fun to hear in a juke joint. I seem to think I saw Lil’ Ed once in another lifetime but he restricts his travel now.

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