Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blues Guitarist - Hubert Sumlin - dead at 80

Update 3/1/2012On February, 24th several musicians hold a memorial concert in honor of Hubert Sumlin benefiting the Jazz Foundation of America at New York's "Apollo Theater" in Harlem. Today (3/1/2012), Keith Richards posted some pictures of the rehearsals and the benefit, called "Howlin' For Hubert" on his webpage. Some shots also feature now Austinite, James Cotton as seen in the picture below, shot by Jane Rose.

Original obit for Hubert Sumlin

Blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin passed away earlier today (12/4/2011) at St. Joseph's Hospital in Wayne, New Jersey. Cause of his death was - as the Blues Foundation reported - heart failure. Sumlin was 80 years old and died in his sleep.

He is considered as one of the most influential guitarists  of all time. In 2003 music magazine Rolling Stone ranked him on it's poll of 100 guitarists as number 65. Eight years later, they rehashed the story, but this time asked musicians to participate in the voting, Hubert Sumlin was ranked #43. Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page is quoted in the article: "I love Hubert Sumlin. He always played the right thing at the right time." According to the "Blues Foundation - The International Home of Blues Music," where Sumlin is a multiple Award winner and was inducted into the "Blues Music Hall of Fame" in 2008, Jimi Hendrix put it this way: "My favorite guitar player is Hubert Sumlin."

Hubert Sumlin and childhood friend James Cotton
He was born in Greenwood, Mississippi (11/16/31), but raised in Hughes, Arkansas. He taught himself to play guitar, after his mom bought him one, when he was six years old. At the age of ten, he literally stumbled into Howlin' Wolf after falling through a window onto the stage where Howlin' Wolf was playing. It was the start of a life-long friendship. At school, he ran into a young harp player, named James Cotton; together they decided to form a band, adding a piano player and a drummer. They played juke-joints, had a stint on local radio station and started to become a local draw.

When Howlin' Wolf moved to Chicago, he soon asked Sumlin to join him and the young guitarist moved north. Times weren't always easy, and according to the interview in "Talkin' Blues" Wolf and Sumlin split several times; at one point Sumlin even joined Wolf's biggest competitor Muddy Waters. In the interview, he also explains, how he started to play his guitar pick-less, just with his fingers.

But Sumlin always came back and would remain with Howlin' Wolf for over 20 years, until the blues legend's death in 1976. It's Sumlin's slashing guitar, described in magazine "Guitar World" as "wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions" that you'll hear on classic Wolf songs like "Wang Dang Doodle," "Smokestack Lightning" and "Killing Floor" that were recorded during the 1950s and '60s.

The Willie Dixon penned "How Many More Years" live in 1966 was Howlin' Wolf's biggest hit from 1951. During tours overseas with Wolf, Hubert Sumlin started recording for foreign labels, the first being in the former German Democratic Republic, for the state-owned Amiga Records, which released "American Folk Blues" in 1964. Two albums were recorded for French labels. Sumlin was also part of the legendary "The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions" where Wolf recorded with Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart and others. Originally label boss, Marshall Chess didn't want Sumlin to fly to Euorpe, but it was Clapton's ultimatum, that made Sumlin part of the recordings.

After Wolf's death in 1976, Sumlin continued with several other members of the band as "The Wolf Pack" but was shunned for awhile in Chicago.
For a year and a half he lived in Austin.

It wasn't until 1987, when he started to release albums under his own name in the United States, for the Black Top and Blind Pig label.

Over the years Hubert Sumlin has been in nominated for four Grammys, in 1998 for "Tribute to Howlin' Wolf" together with Henry Gray, Calvin Jones, Sam Linden; in 1999 for the CD "Legends" with Pinetop Perkins and in 2005 for his own album "About Them Shoes" (which had contributions by Eric Clapton, Levon Helm, James Cotton and Keith Richards). Sumlin was still eager to win a Grammy one of these days, as he stated in an interview with the New York Times earlier this year. He did win several "Blues Music Awards" (used to be called the Handys), as best artist, instrumentalist, best traditional album and for the collaboration with Kenny Wayne Shepherd "Live! In Chicago" which was also nomintated for a Grammy.
After the release of "About Them Shoes," Sumlin had to go and remove part of his lung the same year. It wouldn't slow him down much year after year he would be part of Clapton's Crossroad Festival.

Here he joins Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray for the Howlin' Wolf classic "Killing Floor" - just watch how much Clapton enjoys this little get together.

On October 6, Hubert sat in with Elvis Costello at the Wellmont Theater in New Jersey, as he announced earlier on his twitter account. It was his last public appearance, he played "Commit A Crime," "Hidden Charms" and "Killing Floors" with Costello.

In the end of October Sumlin was supposed to be playing at the Charleston Culture Center Theater with the Nighthawks and record for "Mountain Stage" a show for West Virginia Public Radio. Due to illness, he had to cancel and also was not able to attend a celebration of his 80th birthday at the Mexacali Life in Teaneck, New Jersey.
For the last 12 years Hubert Sumlin was managed by Toni Ann Mamary. Due to her efforts Sumlin began to capitalize on his stature as one of the most innovative guitarists in music. She has also entered a petition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame signed by Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Keith Richards to have him considered for induction as a sideman. Hubert actually lived with his manager, where she nursed him through the trauma of his lung cancer and his heart attack. She will be one of the recipients of the "2012 Keeping the Blues Alive Awards."

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