Evil (Is Going On)
Infidelity is a worry in life and especially in the blues. It causes fear, jealousy, and rage, and it ruins relationships causing deep emotional turmoil.
One of the very best blues songs about infidelity is without a doubt “Evil”, sometimes called “Evil (Is Going On), originally performed by Chicago blues singer and guitarist Howlin’ Wolf and written by the great blue tunesmith Willie Dixon.
Lyrically, the song begins:
If you’re a long way from home
Can’t sleep at night
Grab your telephone
Something just ain’t right
When the cat’s away, the mice will play as they say. The lyrics powerfully illustrate how infidelity can be sensed by a jealous lover even over long distances. It arrives as a feeling, the feeling that “something just ain’t right.” It’s an intuition, a sixth sense, a vibe that you just know something evil is up.
Wolf continues with the chorus
Evil is goin’ on wrong
I am warnin’ ya brother
You better watch your happy home
Wolf is noting the ever-present threat of infidelity. It doesn’t just occur among miserable couples; rather, it can crop up in even what is a seemingly a happy home – at least happy on the surface. Wolf here is pointed in that this song is a warning: evil, by which he means infidelity, could be going on in your life, and you’d better stay vigilant if you want to prevent it.
A History of “Evil”
“Evil” was a hit for Howlin’ Wolf and today the song is considered a blues standard. It’s been covered by an incredible array of artists that include Gary Moore, Derek and the Dominos, Tom Jones (produced by Jack White of The White Stripes), Luther Allison, Canned Heat, and Joe Bonamassa. A cover version by Jace Everett and C.C. Adcock was a featured song in the finale of the third season of HBO’s monster hit series about sexy Louisiana vampires, True Blood.
On this powerful recording, Wolf was backed by an incredible band. Hubert Sumlin, though known as a sideman and not a bandleader, may very well be up there with some of the greatest blues guitarists ever. Rolling Stone thought so, ranking Sumlin #43 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Guitarist Jody Williams also appeared on this single. Williams was a major session musician in the Chicago scene. Unfortunately, he received very little credit for his work at the time, often not appearing on the liner notes of the records he would play on. His style, which included heavy string-bending, unusual chord voicings, and a recognizable, unique tone, was highly influential in Chicago blues.
In addition to the guitarists, the backing band included piano giant Otis Spann, the song’s writer Willie Dixon on the double-bass, and Earl Phillips keeping the beat on the drums.
Structurally, the song is a standard 12-bar blues. However, the backbeat kept by Phillips is syncopated to create its eerie, lilting effect. Wolf recorded “Evil” for Chess Records in 1954. There is some confusion about which song on the record was the A-Side and the B-Side between “Evil” and “Baby How Long.” But there’s no question – “Evil” has made the larger impact in the blues.
The recording of the song took place on May 25th, 1954 in Chicago, where Chess Records and Howlin’ Wolf were both based. The song is considered a Chicago Blues piece. The recording ran two minutes and fifty-five seconds long.
You can watch Joe Bonamassa’s version of the song from Red Rocks here – enjoy!
– Joe Bonamassa Official Blog