Little Red Rooster

Released October 1961
Format 7-inch 45 rpm record

Recorded Chicago, June 1961
Genre Chicago blues
Length 2:25

Label Chess (no. 1804)
Writer(s) Willie Dixon
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Phil Chess, Willie Dixon

“Little Red Rooster” (or “The Red Rooster” as it was first titled) is a blues standard credited to arranger and songwriter Willie Dixon. The song was first recorded in 1961 by American blues musician Howlin’ Wolf in the Chicago blues style. His vocal and slide guitar playing are key elements of the song. It is rooted in the Delta blues tradition and the theme is derived from folklore. Musical antecedents to “Little Red Rooster” appear in earlier songs by blues artists Charlie Patton and Memphis Minnie.

A variety of musicians have interpreted and recorded “Little Red Rooster”. Some add new words and instrumentation to mimic the sounds of animals mentioned in the lyrics. American soul music singer Sam Cooke adapted the song using a more uptempo approach and it became a successful single on both the US rhythm and blues and pop record charts in 1963. Concurrently, Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf toured the UK with the American Folk Blues Festival and helped popularize Chicago blues with local rock musicians overseas.

The Rolling Stones were among the first British rock groups to record modern electric blues songs. In 1964, they recorded “Little Red Rooster” with original member Brian Jones, a key player in the recording. Their rendition, which remains closer to the original arrangement than Cooke’s, became a number one record in the UK and continues to be the only blues song to reach the top of the British chart. The Stones frequently performed it on television and in concert and released several live recordings of the song. “Little Red Rooster” continues to be performed and recorded, making it one of Willie Dixon’s best-known compositions.

Rolling Stones version

Chess Records Chicago artists, including Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, influenced the Rolling Stones, with the band taking their name from a Muddy Waters tune and playing from a repertoire of blues songs at the beginning of their career. In 1962, before they had recorded as a group, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Keith Richards, attended the first American Folk Blues Festival, whose performers included Howlin’ Wolf. Willie Dixon, another Festival player, later recalled “When the Rolling Stones came to Chess studios, they had already met me and doing my songs, especially ‘Little Red Rooster'”. When Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf were in London, they met several local rock musicians. Early Stones manager Giorgio Gomelsky described such a meeting: