Hubert Sumlin is now 78-years-old and carries an oxygen tank wherever he goes. But do not doubt for one second that this legendary blues guitarist of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters fame is still not one of the absolute best players in the world.
As only seems to happen in New York City, Sumlin assembled an all-star band for an amazing two-hour set on a cruise ship last night in New York Harbor. To be honest, had it not been for some occasional rocking of the ship, I forgot we were even on the water. The music was that good!When Rolling Stone picked him as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, they characterized his playing by "wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions.“ Fair enough and good enough that other artists including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix cite him as a major influence.
Born in Mississippi, Sumlin first met Howlin' Wolf by sneaking into a performance. Later Wolf invited Sumlin to move to Chicago to play in his band. He stayed there for most of Wolf’s career, except for a brief period when he joined Muddy Waters' band.
Hubert Sumlin is as close to the real thing as you will find anymore. His playing was heavily influenced by not only Muddy Waters, but Charley Patton, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Robert Johnson.Sumlin was an inspiration for the British blues boom. He provided a crucial link from the acoustic Mississippi delta blues to electric guitarists such as Clapton, Page, Richards and Beck.
For last night’s “Rockin’ the River” cruise, Sumlin brought together David Johansen of the New York Dolls, John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful, Jimmy Vivino, guitar virtuoso from Conan O’Brien’s TV show, and Joey Spampinato & Tom Ardolino of NRBQ. It was one killer concert!David Johansen, who also performed under the name Buster Poindexter, is best known for his work with the New York Dolls. But, to me, his best work was performing the country blues with his group, The Harry Smiths. The group was named in tribute to the man who compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music.
John Sebastian, a noted songwriter and harmonica player, founded The Lovin’ Spoonful, which was named after a Mississippi John Hurt song. He played solo at Woodstock, and was instrumental in the early jug band movement. Last night, he played harmonica and guitar.