RIP: Hubert Sumlin, 1931-2011

Herbert Sumlin, Asbury Park ,July, 2009  (photo by Matt Mac Haffie)
Hubert Sumlin, Asbury Park, July, 2009 (photo by Matt Mac Haffie)

Hubert Sumlin was the real thing.

It was 2003, and I was playing guitar in Savoy Brown, and we were playing the Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival at the Dunn Tire Park baseball stadium. The headliners were the Yardbirds, and Woodstock guitar slinger Jimmy Weider was also on the bill, and he had Sid McGinnis and Hubert Sumlin join him in his set just before us.

This, of course, was a big deal. Sumlin was the guitarist with the legendary Howlin’ Wolf, and his musical foil on such songs as “Smokestack Lightin’,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Spoonful” and “Backdoor Man.”

Before our show, Sumlin came over for a chat, and let’s say we didn¹t have to twist his arm to get him to join us for a few songs as well. The stage was on second base, and I¹ll never forget looking out as we were playing, and seeing Hubert coming across the field, being driven in golf cart, sitting in the back with his orange Stratocaster in the seat next to him.

I let him use my Vox amp and switched to acoustic guitar, as we played a handful of tunes – including “Wang Dang Doodle.” Hearing his stinging notes at close proximity (just a few feet away) – a pure, timeless sound, a guitar style we all emulate that he helped pioneer – was a thrill beyond belief. And standing next to him a big stage was an honor.

Hubert passed away last Sunday; he was 80 years old. He was one of the last of the original bluesmen (B.B. King, Buddy Guy, James Cotton and a few others remain) and, despite his rough and tumble life, a kind gentleman. He felt lucky he could be a guitar player, and was just happy to be Hubert. And that was surely infectious.

We will all miss him.

Story by Colonel David
Photographs by Matt Mac Haffie

Hubert Sumlin website
Hubert Sumlin obituary at The New York Times

Herbert Sumlin, Asbury Park, July, 2009  (photo by Matt Mac Haffie)
Hubert Sumlin, Asbury Park, July, 2009 (photo by Matt Mac Haffie)
  1. mark emanatian says

    I had the great opportunity to back up Hubert Sumlin at the Van Dyck in the late 1990s. He was great fun. His people sent us a list of songs to learn. He didn’t play any of them. He called the key and counted off with the drummer ( the great Rocky Petrocelli ) and played whatever he wanted. He was very nice to me, gave me a lot of solos and traded licks back and forth a few times. He was kind and funny. He played some wild things. Most of all he was cool.

  2. Fred says

    I got to see Hubert play in 1990, 2005, and 2010. He was memorable every time. He was the epitome of class, too. Perhaps the local blues players here could do a gig each year to celebrate his birth….

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