He originally intended on being a farmer until meeting Charley Patton at eighteen. He soon learned to play the guitar and harmonica, eventually beginning a musical career after a stint in the army and settling down in Arkansas.
Howlin' Wolf quickly became a local celebrity, and soon began working with Willie Johnson. His first recordings came in 1951, when he was simultaneously signed to The Bihari Brothers and Leonard Chess. Chess Records eventually won the war over the singer, and Wolf settled in Chicago. He began playing with Hubert Sumlin, a legendary guitarist. In 1956, Wolf released "Evil" and "Smokestack Lightnin'", both major R&B hits.
He lived up to his name, with a guttural voice and scary howling, combined with sometimes racing around the stage on all fours.
He toured Europe on a regular basis and released a long series of hits, such as "I Ain't Superstitious" and "Back Door Man". Among others, The Rolling Stones had a huge hit with a cover of Wolf's "Little Red Rooster". Later, Led Zeppelin recorded Wolf's self-penned "Killing Floor", and Cream, The Doors and Jeff Beck also recorded covers.