Earlier this week, one of the creators of the Chicago blues sound, guitarist Hubert Sumlin passed away at the age of 80. Sumlin played as rhythm and then lead guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf from 1963 until Wolf died in 1976. So even if you have never heard Sumlin’s name, you have heard his guitar work on such blues classics as “Spoonful,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” and “Back Door Man.” Beyond that, you have heard his influence in many of the rock classics you know. Among many others, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix all credited Sumlin with influencing their guitar work. Sumlin also played guitar for Muddy Waters for a short period.
Here is an undated video that appears to be fairly recent of Sumlin showing he still has the chops, playing “Killing Floor” with Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray.
By most accounts, Hubert Sumlin was a quiet and unassuming man. Because he was not one to hog the spotlight, if you were not a devoted blues fan you might have missed his name. But one may see a part of the history of rock and roll in the admiring and joyful facial expressions of Clapton, Vaughan, and Cray as they play with the legend. RIP.
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