Guitar Aficionado

Playlist: Hubert Sumlin


By Ed Mitchell

“I wish I could play like Hubert,” said Elvis Costello of Chicago blues legend Hubert Sumlin, who passed away on December 4, 2011. A longtime collaborator of Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert is recognized as a true electric blues pioneer by disciples like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among many others. As Stevie Ray Vaughan once said: “Hubert's the heaviest, most original guitar player I've ever heard... and that's the truth!” Here, GA pays our respects.

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“Smokestack Lightning”
(Howlin’ Wolf - Moanin’ In The Midnight, 1959)
Recorded in January 1956, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” changed the lives of blues-hungry English bands like The Yardbirds and The Who, as well as American garage bands like The Groupies, whose 1966 classic, “Primitive,” features a brilliantly twisted version of Hubert Sumlin’s original riff.

“How Many More Times”
(Howlin’ Wolf - Moanin’ In The Midnight, 1959)
Wolf first recorded “How Many More Times” at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service (a k a Sun Studio) in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1951. While Willie Johnson played guitar on the original recording, Hubert makes the song his own in this electrifying live clip from 1966. Incidentally, the cat in the hat, conducting the band, is Delta blues legend Son House.

(Howlin Wolf - Howlin’ Wolf,aka The Rockin’ Chair Album, 1962)
Captured at Chess Studios in Chicago in June, 1960, “Spoonful” has a groove that could pound through a brick wall. No wonder proto-hard rock bands like Cream loved the recording and Hubert's guitar playing. The band famously covered the song on their 1966 debut UK album, Fresh Cream, as well as the 1968 double album, Wheels of Fire. With respect to Eric Clapton, nobody plays those stinging licks quite like Mr. Sumlin.

“Still A Fool”
(About Them Shoes, 2005)
When Hubert set out to record his 2005 album, About Them Shoes, he pulled in heavyweight contributors like Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters sidemen, guitarist “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin and harmonica player James Cotton. The album is all gravy, but one of the tastiest treats is “Still A Fool” which finds Rolling Stone Keith Richards grunting out lead vocals while trading licks with Hubert.

“Red Rooster”
(10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads, 2007)
Blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s album and documentary project, 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads, was all about capturing legendary, and in some cases forgotten, blues artists for prosperity. Here, Sumlin jams with KWS, pianist Henry Gray, late Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and harmonica player George “Wild Child” Butler. This is the real stuff.