Rolling Stones’ ‘Little Red Rooster’ Turns 50!

Rolling Stones’ ‘Little Red Rooster’ Turns 50!

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That’s right, folks, fifty years ago today, the Rolling Stones recorded their rendition of “Little Red Rooster” in Regent Sound Studios, in London, England. To commemorate the occasion, FDMRX has compiled a list of five facts you didn’t know about “Little Red Rooster” and the Rolling Stones.

5. “Little Red Rooster” was originally a blues standard called “The Red Rooster” arranged and written by Willie Dixon. He describes it saying, “I wrote it as a barnyard song really, and some people even take it that way!” It was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago blues style in 1961. His vocal style and slide guitar are the key factors that give the song notoriety. He recorded it in the key of A, maintaining a slow blues vibe throughout the song, and following an AAB blues pattern. Dixon himself played double bass on the recording. Chess Records released it in October of that year.

4. Prior to Howlin’ Wolf, blues artists Memphis Minnie and Charlie Patton make references to a “Little Red Rooster,” drawing the theme from Delta blues folklore. Patton’s 1929 version was entitled “Banty Rooster Blues,” and contains lyrics that Dixon took from; “What you want with a rooster, he won’t crow ‘fore day / I know my dog anywhere I hear him bark,” are Patton’s while Dixon’s are, “I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow ‘fore day / Oh the dogs begin to bark.” Dixon’s lyrics are also similar to Minnie’s lyrics, especially the lines “If you see my rooster, please run ‘im on back home,” which line up with Dixon’s “If you see my little red rooster, please drive ‘im home.”  In addition to lyrics, Dixon pulled the melody of the song from these two as well. This song’s roots are deep!

3. The “theme” mentioned above resides in the Southern belief that a rooster is the peacekeeper of the barnyard. Memphis Minnie even included a full-throated rooster crow imitation that would put Peter Pan to shame, and lead to the habit of making animal sounds on future recordings of “Little Red Rooster.” Many homes in the American South are decorated with images of barnyard roosters, based on the belief that the rooster will bring peace to the household.

2. The Rolling Stones were heavily influenced by artists who recorded with Chess Records. They even created their band name from a Muddy Waters tune, and started out their career playing covers of blues tunes. Everyone was sort of fine with this, Dixon himself saying, “I left lots of tapes when I was over there [in London … I told] them anybody who wanted to could go and make a blues song. That’s how the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds got their songs.” As for The Rolling Stones, they chose “Little Red Rooster” because simply because they liked the song. “The reason we recorded ‘Little Red Rooster’ isn’t because we want to bring blues to the masses. We’ve been going on and on about blues, so we thought it was about time we stopped talking and did something about it,” Mick Jagger said at the time. “We liked that particular song, so we released it. We’re not on the blues kick as far as recording goes. The next record will be entirely different, just as all the others have been.”

1. The Rolling Stones’ version had an electric blues sound, but stayed closer to Howlin’ Wolf’s original than to any subsequent covers. It reached Number One on the U.K. charts and to this day is still the only blues song to reach the top of the U.K. charts. Howlin’ Wolf’s version was inducted in the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Dozens of covers have been recorded by artists including The Doors, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Z.Z. Hill, Grateful Dead, Big Mama Thornton, the Persuasions, Pussy Galore, the Roosters, and many more.
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