Hubert was Keith to Wolf’s Mick. He played on the original versions of all of Howlin’ Wolf’s songs that were later made famous by The Stones, Hendrix, The Doors, Jeff Beck Group, The Electric Flag, The Grateful Dead, Cream, The Yardbirds, and so many others. Songs like “Smokestack Lightning”, “Back Door Man”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “Spoonful”, “Killing Floor”, “Built for Comfort”, “Little Red Rooster”, “Goin’ Down Slow”, and “”Wand Dang Doodle”! Songs that have become staples of every rock and blues band in the world for the last fifty years, and Hubert Sumlin played on them all! Amazingly, he also found the time to spend six months playing in Muddy Waters band!
Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1931, and raised in Arkansas, Sumlin made his first recordings in 1953 at Sun Studios with the legendary Sam Phillips producing! His first meeting with Howlin’ Wolf took place when Hubert was 10! Sneaking out of his mother’s house to go see Wolf at an Arkansas juke joint, (the kind of place that Levon Helm named his Midnight Rambles after) Hubert, who was too young to get in, was standing on some Coca Cola crates trying to look into the room, when the crates shifted and young Hubert fell through the window, landing on the 6 foot 6, 230 pound Wolf, who then gave him a place of honor on the stage, and afterwards drove him home and convinced his mother not to punish him for sneaking out!
The recipient of four Grammy awards and numerous Blues Music awards, Mister Sumlin was also a member of the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and was recently named #43 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the One Hundred Greatest Guitarists of All Time! When Howlin’ Wolf went to London to record an album with an all star crew of young British musicians who were influenced by and exponents of his music, Eric Clapton refused to participate in the sessions if Hubert wasn’t there! The Stones brought him on stage at Madison Square Garden in 2003 to sit in with them and he also was a frequent guest at Woodstock’s own, Levon Helm’s.
Mister Sumlin also recorded more than a dozen albums as an artist in his own right, often with guests like Keith Richard, Eric Clapton, Levon, and David Johansen guesting! There’s even an unreleased Blues album that Keith conceived and produced with Hubert and many of the aforementioned guests that, hopefully, will be unleashed on the waiting Blues community and fans one day soon!
I was privileged to see the man perform quite a few times, and there was really no one like him!
He is survived by his second wife, Evelyn, a son, three daughters, and two sisters. Another son predeceased Hubert. The world is now a poorer place! RIP Mister Hubert Sumlin. You will be missed, but your music will live on as long as the human race survives, and maybe longer!
We also lost the great soul singer, Dobie Gray, most famous for his rendering of the classic song, “Drift Away” (which, by the way, The Stones also recorded, but never released), and his smash hit from the 60’s, “The In Crowd”, a great record if there ever was one! In his later years, Mister Gray moved to Nashville and focused on songwriting, penning hits for artists as diverse as Ray Charles, George Jones, Julio Iglesias, and Charley Pride! Strangely, nobody seems to know Dobie’s birth name, birth place, or birth date, but by most accounts, he was 69, 70, or 71! Really!
And tragically, Barbara Orbison, Roy’s wife, lost her battle with cancer on the 23rd anniversary of her husband’s death, December 6, at the age of 60.
Perhaps not coincidentally, or perhaps because it’s the week before Christmas, but this is a fairly barren week for live music. Here’s all I’ve got for you.
Thursday, December 15 – The great CHRIS ISAAK stops by the Tarrytown Music Hall tonight. Highly recommended.
Friday, December 16 – DONNA THE BUFFALO is at the Bearsville Theater. Bearer of one of the strangest names of any band ever, I haven’t really heard their music, but they did make an album with my buddy, Jim Lauderdale, and that’s good enough for me!
Saturday, December 17 – The highly acclaimed JOHNNY MONSTER BAND returns to the Bearsville Theater for a free show, CHRIS ROBINSON of The Black Crows pulls into Irving Plaza in Manhattan, and DAVID KRAAI AND THE SADDLE TRAMPS continue to carry the torch for Cosmic American Music at The High Falls Cafe.
Monday, December 19 – British Ska masters, THE ENGLISH BEAT make an appearance at Irving Plaza in Manhattan.
Some of you may remember my column of March 17, 2011, in which I picked my top ten artists who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but aren’t. Well, this year’s inductees have just been announced, and of the 6 new inductees, three of them were on my list! In addition, the great and immortal Tom Dowd, who I’ve advocated for induction for the past ten years or so, was also in this year’s class! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Have a great week!