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His boyhood years were spent helping her work her 'share’, picking and chopping cotton.In the five or six months between harvesting and planting he would walk five miles and back each day to sit with the 50 or 60 other children of all ages in the single room of Elkhorn School.
A neighbour set off on foot – there was no other form of transportation – to summon a midwife, but she arrived too late for the birth. His mother married twice more before dying when Riley was nine, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother.
Born Chester Burnett, Wolf was a powerfully built man with a domineering personality and a voice that could frighten the devil. There was a guy called Willie Ford; he had a little nightclub, about 40 miles west of Memphis. My job was – they had gambling in the back, and my job was to keep the people happy that didn’t gamble, keep ’em dancing.
In later years his most outré trick was to shake a Coke bottle and slip it inside his trousers as he was walking to the microphone, then unbutton his fly, pop the top and spray the audience. Now Wolf had been working for Willie Ford, but Wolf was away visiting his family, so Willie Ford contacted me at the radio station, and he hired me to sit in while Wolf was gone. I wasn’t that good, but one thing I had going for me was the beat of my foot – I kept good time.
I’d be glad to see her, but my aunt did snuff and she’d always kiss me, and I hated that.
But then my mother would remind me, you like to play her phonograph. That’s how I heard Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Barbecue Bob, Mississippi John Hurt – many of these people were around then.