“Smokestack Lightning” (also “Smoke Stack Lightning” or “Smokestack Lightnin’“) is a blues song recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956. It became one of his most popular and influential songs. It is based on earlier blues songs, and numerous artists later interpreted it.
Wolf had performed “Smokestack Lightning” in one form or another at least by the early 1930s, when he was performing with Charley Patton in small Delta communities. The song, described as “a hypnotic one-chord drone piece”, draws on earlier blues, such as Tommy Johnson‘s “Big Road Blues”, the Mississippi Sheiks‘ “Stop and Listen Blues”, and Charley Patton’s “Moon Going Down”. Wolf said the song was inspired by watching trains in the night: “We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning. “In 1951, he recorded the song as “Crying at Daybreak”. It contains the line “O-oh smokestack lightnin’, shinin’, just like gold, oh don’t you hear me cryin'”, similar to the Mississippi Sheiks’ lyric “A-ah, smokestack lightnin’, that bell shine just like gold, now don’t you hear me talkin'”