Austin-based blues singer/guitarist Omar Dykes (also known as Omar Kent Dykes) hails from McComb, Mississippi, not far from the birthplace of one of his biggest musical heroes, blues legend Howlin’ Wolf.
Earlier this summer, Dykes released Runnin’ with the Wolf (Provogue), a powerful tribute to Howlin' Wolf.
The album's 14 covers are far from carbon copies of the original versions. Dykes and his band, the Howlers, have been performing many of these songs for decades, so Dykes' own groove, vibe and spin shine through loud and clear.
"I do my little versions of the songs," Dykes said. "If Howlin’ Wolf were a 500-pound steel anvil, then I’m a little piece of steel wool that fell out of the pack.”
The album also features an original track, "Runnin' with the Wolf," which you can check out below.
We recently caught up with Dykes to discuss the new album, his other blues influences and future plans. For more about Dykes, check out his official website.
[[ GuitarWorld.com premiered Runnin’ with the Wolf in July. You can listen to the entire album here. ]]
GUITAR WORLD: How did you choose the 14 Howlin' Wolf covers that appear on Runnin' with the Wolf?
I worked on choosing the Howlin’ Wolf songs for about six months before I made the final track list. I’ve played and listened to Howlin’ Wolf my entire career. At first I wanted to do all of them, but I knew that wouldn't be impossible. I basically started with a list of all the tracks I love, which gave me about 30 songs. Then I had to consider what musicians I wanted to play on the songs and make decisions of instruments, harp, horns and all of that.
I had to decide if I wanted to do the most-recognized songs, the least-recognized songs or a combination. I was a little skeptical about doing the most famous songs because so many other artists have already done them. At one point, I thought I should divide the songs into two releases because there were so many songs I wanted to record. I finally was able to narrow it down to 14 songs, but it was really hard. There are still more I want to do someday.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
If I had to choose, “Riding in the Moonlight” would be one because I've played that song for so many years. “The Red Rooster” has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager. I bought the 45 when I was about 13. In my hometown, you could only buy records at one store, so the ones I bought there all became treasures to me.
This is your 23rd album. What prompted the return to the Provogue label for this one?
[Label founder Ed Van Zijl] asked me if I was interested in recording another project with him, and I was glad to do it. I thought the Howlin’ Wolf material would be a perfect release on Provogue because it is something I've always wanted to record. They gave me a very generous recording budget for the studio so I could do the project justice. I used the best musicians, who are also my best friends and Howlin’ Wolf fanatics themselves, and we are all very proud of the end result.
I was not trying to copy Howlin’ Wolf because nobody can. I did want to put my own spin on the Howlin’ Wolf songs I've been playing for years. I'm grateful to Provogue for the opportunity to record this material after all this time. This is my 11th release on Provogue. I did my first release with them in 1990 and my last in 2001, so I've worked with Provogue for a long time. It seemed like it was the right time to do another release with them.
For people who are new to Howlin' Wolf, what five definitive Howlin' Wolf recordings should they download ASAP?
“Wang Dang Doodle,” “The Red Rooster,” “Smokestack Lightnin’,” “Spoonful” and “Killing Floor."
You dedicated one track to the late Hubert Sumlin. Did you ever get to play with him?
I had the privilege of playing with Hubert a couple of times. Both times were at Antone’s Blues Club in Austin. Hubert used to hang out there. One night I went to Antone’s when it was on Guadalupe Street, and Angela Strehli was playing with her band at the time. Mel Brown was there, and Denny Freeman. Hubert was also there and they asked me to come up and play with them on a few songs. I played Denny’s guitar and we did a couple of songs. The second time I got to play with Hubert was at the Antone’s location on 5th Street. I did a radio show with Ray Wylie Hubbard and stopped in Antone’s after the show. Jimmie Vaughan, Derek O’Brien, Scott Nelson, Chris Layton and Hubert were there, and I got up to play with them. I played and sang a few Howlin’ Wolf songs, and we all had a blast.
You've done two Jimmy Reed tribute records and now a Howlin' Wolf tribute album. Who might be next? Who are your other big heroes?
I will definitely do a tribute to Bo Diddley at some point. Bo Diddley and I are from the same hometown, McComb, Mississippi, and I've written a lot of songs with the Bo Diddley beat. I could do so many tributes mixed in with my Howlers releases because they're so fun to do. I love Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Hound Dog Taylor and Freddie King. I don’t know that I will do a tribute to all of these, but they are all worthy of being recognized by everybody.
What wah pedal is used on "Ooh Baby Hold Me," and who's playing guitar on the track?
The guitarist using the wah pedal on “Ooh Baby Hold Me” is the incredible Casper Rawls. The pedal is the Morley Bad Horsie. A guy gave it to Casper as part of his pay for a recording session. As I was selecting the songs, I had my girlfriend listen to Howlin’ Wolf’s version of “Ooh Baby Hold Me.” As soon as she heard the song, she told me it was perfect for me to sing because of my voice, and she could hear Casper playing wah and Kaz playing sax on the track. The final result is really her initial vision of the song, so I dedicated it to her.
What will the next original Omar Dykes album be like?
I like to mix up the material on my original releases. There have been so many musical influences in my life that it makes sense to include many genres of music on these later releases in my career. I just write and record what I really like and hope fans will like it too. My 2012 release, I’m Gone, includes blues, rockabilly, country and a ballad. I like to play everything, so that is what will be on my next Omar and the Howlers record. A little bit of everything.
Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.