Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blues Thursday: Hubert Sumlin Special

Eric Clapton wanted it. All the guys from overseas wanted it.... Everybody wanted to get that Hubert Sumlin sound."                               (Blues saxophonist Eddie Shaw)

December 4, Hubert Sumlin has been dead for two years now. All the blues sites were posting memorial articles about the great guitarist. And we were  reminded that he was the man who made Howlin' Wolf's music sound so different than other blues musicians' tunes.

I never played the guitar in my life, but I love the sound of that instrument in all the variations it has to offer (or, most of them, at least.) And even a layperson like me notices when an artist has a distinct style that is unmistakably his or hers.

At first, when I was researching Hubert Sumlin's style, I didn't know what to make of it. Honestly, I thought it sounded weird. Especially his solo recordings, like "Spanish Greens," for example, took me a while to define. Somehow, it appeared as if he were skipping beats, pausing in the middle of a tune or just forgetting he was supposed to play. As I said, that was my hopelessly uneducated approach.

On the other hand, I must admit, he had me listen as intensely to his guitar as I hadn't done in a long, long, long time. I think the last time I focused with a similar interest on a guitar was when I studied Albert King's playing. (Btw. Albert King is the greatest blues guitarist ever in my opinion.)

So, here's "Spanish Greens." Just listen, and you'll hear what I mean. I could look up a more technical description of his style -- but the music says it better than any scholarly definition could.

And here, all I have to say is: "Show 'em how ist's done, Hubert!"

Hubert Sumlin was born November 16, 1931 in Greenwood, MS. (Where else than in Mississippi, of course.)

His musical career began in the 50's when he joint James Cotton for a short time. But he achieved his fame after joining Howlin' Wolf after the Wolf had moved from Memphis to Chicago. Willie Johnson, Wolf's guitarist had decided not to follow the master, and he was replaced by Jody Williams. Sumlin got the slot of the second guitar. After Williams, too, had left the band, Sumlin got a chance at first guitar, so to speak. Except for a short stint with Muddy Waters, Sumlin stayed with Howlin' Wolf for the rest of Wolf's career.
Howlin' Wolf had Sumlin attend the Chicago Conservatory of Music for guitar instructions and to learn the scales.
After the death of Howlin' Wolf in 1976, Sumlin and other members of Wolf's band founded "The Wolf Pack." Band leader was saxophonist Eddie Shaw. Sumlin left the band in the early 80's to pursue a solo career.
Before his first U.S. release as a soloist, he had three albums released in Europe: "Black and Blue" 1975 in France. "Blues Anytime" a collaboration with Willie Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, and Clifton James appeared 1980 in Germany as did "Gamblin' Women" featuring Carey Bell.  (For a comprehensive discography go here.)

Blue Shadows

And because I love this one so much ...

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