Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin (November 16, 1931-December 4, 2011)

Hubert Sumlin was an American blues guitarist and singer, best known for his celebrated work, from 1955, as guitarist in Howlin’ Wolf‘s band. His singular playing is characterized by “wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions”. Listed as number sixty-five in the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Sumlin continues to tour and play blues guitar. He is cited as a major influence by many artists, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.

Career

Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Sumlin was raised in Hughes, Arkansas. When he was six years old, he got his first guitar. As a boy, Sumlin first met Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) by sneaking into a performance. When Burnett relocated from Memphisto Chicago in 1953, his long-time guitarist Willie Johnson chose not to join him. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Wolf first hired Chicago guitarist Jody Williams, and in 1954 Wolf invited Sumlin to relocate to Chicago to play second guitar in his Chicago-based band. Williams left the band in 1955, leaving Sumlin as the primary guitarist in Wolf’s band, a position he held almost continuously (except for a brief spell playing with Muddy Waters around 1956) for the remainder of Wolf’s career. According to an interview cited in Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, Howlin’ Wolf sent Sumlin to a classical guitar instructor at the Chicago Musical College. Sumlin played on the album Howlin’ Wolf, also called The Rockin’ Chair Album, which was named the third greatest guitar album of all time by Mojo magazine in 2004.

Upon Wolf’s death in 1976, Sumlin continued on with several other members of the late Burnett’s band under the name “The Wolf Pack” until about 1980. Sumlin has also recorded under his own name, beginning with a session recorded while touring Europe with Burnett in 1964. His latest effort is About Them Shoes, released in 2004 by Tone-Cool Records. He underwent lung removal surgery in 2004 but was still going strong as of 2010. He performed at the Crossroads 2010 Guitar Festival with his oxygen tank.

Sumlin was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988. Sumlin was also a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.

Equipment

Sumlin has favored a Louis Electric Model HS M12 amplifier, and prefers his 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar.

Influences

Early influences that affected Hubert Sumlin’s style of play at a young age have been cited by him as, primarily, Muddy Waters, Charley Patton, Robert Lockwood Jr., Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf.

Legacy

It is often stated that Sumlin’s playing was a vital catalyst for the British blues boom providing a link from the acoustic blues of the Mississippi delta that was more accessible to electric guitarists such as Clapton, Page, Richards and Beck. Indeed, throughout the careers of these artists, many Howlin’ Wolf songs have been covered and Sumlin’s guitar lines imitated. Examples are Clapton’s covers of “Goin’ Down Slow”, The Rolling Stones’ version of “Little Red Rooster”, The Yardbirds’ version of “Smokestack Lightnin’”, Cream’s take on “Spoonful”, and “The Lemon Song” by Led Zeppelin (which is a rework of “Killing Floor”)

 He died on December 4, 2011, in a hospital in Wayne, New Jersey, of heart failure at the age of 80.

Discography

 

Albums

 

Year Title Label Number Notes
1964 American Folk Blues Amiga 850 043 Germany
1974 Kings of Chicago Blues, Vol. 2 Disques Vogue LDM 30175 France, recorded 1971
1976 Groove Black & Blue 33.511 France, recorded 1975
1980 Gamblin’ Woman L + R 42.008 Germany, recorded 1980
1987 Hubert Sumlin’s Blues Party Black Top BT-1036 US
1989 Heart & Soul Blind Pig BP-3389 US
1990 Healing Feeling Black Top BT-1053 US
1991 Blues Guitar Boss JSP 239 UK, recorded 1990 in London
1994 Made in Argentina 1993 Blues Special 9501 Argentina, recorded 1993 in Buenos Aires with Emilion Villanueva and the Kansas City Boys
1994 I’m the Back Door Man Blues Special 9506 Argentina, recorded 1993 in Buenos Aires
1996 Blues Classics Bellaphon 82007 Germany, recorded 1964 in East Berlin
1998 I Know You APO 2004 US
1998 Wake Up Call Blues Planet 1116 US
1999 Pinetop Perkins & Hubert Sumlin: Legends Telarc 83446 US
2004 About Them Shoes Tone-Cool/Artemis Records 51609 US, also Rykodisc RCD 17307 in the UK

 

Videos

 

Year Title Label Number Notes
2005 The Blues Guitar of Hubert Sumlin Homespun Tapes SUMGT21 US, VHS & DVD


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