Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin will enter the Blues Hall of Fame this week and gain a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.

The Greenwood Commonwealth writes (read the full story - Sumlin: Greenwood's still my town)

Hubert Sumlin’s first wife told him to shape up or be single again. “She said it was either my guitar or her,” Sumlin said of an early tiff married life tossed his way. “So I picked up my guitar and walked out the door.” That decision, in effect, will be honored Tuesday when a marker is placed on the Mississippi Blues Trail in the blues giant’s hometown of Greenwood.

Sumlin, who as a 12-year-old in the 1940s was performing with harmonica great James Cotton, got his break when Howlin’ Wolf caught wind of the duo’s sound and invited them to do a 15-minute set on West Memphis’ KWM radio station. “Wolf told us, ‘If you do it right, I might have to get you in my band,’” Sumlin recalled. Something must have been done right.
From the 1950s until Wolf’s death in 1976, Sumlin’s lead guitar playing – described as “darting, unpredictable” by American Roots Music – complemented Wolf’s performances. Then, when Rolling Stone magazine made a list in 2003 of the top 100 guitarist of all time, Sumlin ranked number 65. And a sentence guitarist Jimi Hendrix is said to have uttered has entered into music-enthusiast legend: “My favorite guitar player is Hubert Sumlin.”

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sumlin be honored with a marker on the Mississippi's Blues Trail. The dedication will take place on Greenwood’s River Road Extended.

Billy Watkins writes about Sumlin's connection with famed rocker Eric Clapton in the Clarion Ledger (read the full article here - Finger-lickin' good: Blues Hall of Fame welcomes Hubert Sumlin):

Hubert Sumlin had never seen so many guitars. American brands. Japanese. German. The walls were covered with them. It was near midnight in April 1970 at Clapton's home. They had just finished what would come to be known as The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, a studio jam that included the Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood and Klaus Voorman.

"I can't take no guitar from you, Eric," Sumlin said. "I want you to," Clapton insisted.

Sumlin then spotted a guitar case on the floor and opened it. He pulled out a black mid-1950s Fender Stratocaster. He ran his fingers up and down the neck a few times, cradled it against his belly. "This one ... I'll take this one, Eric," Sumlin said.

The words made Clapton's whole body tremble. "No, Hubert, not that one. Please, man. Not that one."

Clapton had just recently purchased it in a small music store in Nashville for $100. It was the guitar of his dreams, the way it played and spoke.

"This is the one, man," Sumlin said. Several minutes passed. Sumlin kept playing. Clapton kept shaking.

"OK, Hubert," Clapton finally said. "But if I want this guitar back one day, can I buy it from you?"

Sumlin shook his head. "Naw, man, I'm gonna play it a while, and then I'll give it back to you. You ain't gotta buy it."

After he returned to the U.S., "I think everybody in Eric's family -including his butler - called me about that guitar," the 76-year-old Sumlin recalls now. "But I told them the same thing I told Eric. 'I'll give it back one day.' "

Hubert Sumlin, one of the Top 100 guitarists of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine and scheduled to be inducted Wednesday in The Blues Hall of Fame at ceremonies in Tunica, grew up on a plantation just outside Greenwood.

Just like he promised Clapton, he gave the guitar back. "I kept it a couple of weeks," Sumlin says. "I knew we were gonna be playing Montreal at the same time, so I went over to his hotel. Police led me to his room, and Eric met me at the door. He grabbed me. Hugged me. He said, 'Anything I can ever do for you, you just let me know.' "
Clapton went on to play and write most of his greatest hits on that guitar, which became affectionately known as "Blackie." It was donated by Clapton in 2004 to the Guitar Center in Corona, Calif., for auction, with proceeds going to Clapton's Crossroads drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Antigua. Winning bid: $959,000.


Hubert Sumlin -- Sittin on Top of the World

1 comment:

Mark said...

I just read about Hubert Sumlin for the first time in the Clarion-Ledger a week or so ago. It was a fascinating read!

You have a terrific blog! I'll be back when I can spend more time. At my age, I'm just now starting to appreciate the Delta Blues. Your blog has been bookmarked!