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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bob Corritore Blues News

December 23, 2011
I was lucky enough to get to know Hubert Sumlin from seeing Howlin' Wolf in Chicago in the mid 1970s. I was living in the Chicago area at that time. I first met Hubert when I was 18 years old. I went to see Wolf at Eddie's Place AKA The 1815 Club at 1815 W. Roosevelt on the West Side. This club was owned by Eddie Shaw and was where Wolf made his home base when he was not touring. I would see the Howlin' Wolf at Eddie's Place every chance I could. I was thrilled to personally meet the man who crafted those magical guitar lines on all those great Howlin' Wolf records. I will never forget how Hubert was so kind and happy to take me in. He would sit down with me and talk to me like I was the only person in the world for that moment. How great it was to hear Hubert's chemistry with the Wolf and how those guitar hooks defined the songs! There was an unspoken sameness of purpose between Wolf and Hubert as they leaned on each other to fulfill the task at hand. It was effortless and spellbinding. Often times I was in the first row of seats just a few feet from the stage taking it all in. I remember shaking Hubert's hand and noticing that it was the softest, meekest handshake I had ever experienced, and then contrasting that to Howlin' Wolf's assertive handshake where my hand seemed to disappear into Wolf''s. I fondly remember Hubert playing that black Rickenbacker guitar with no pick. How he caressed sweet, amazing runs of notes and chords. His style seemed to defy gravity and you were left on the edge of your seat - thrilled and wondering what he would come up with next! Seeing Wolf and Hubert was like witnessing a miracle. Through my experiences at the 1815 club, I met the great Chico Chism who was Wolf's last drummer. Chico would become my lifelong friend and musical collaborator. Wolf died on January 10, 1976 and the next day everyone gathered at the 1815 club for an impromptu tribute to this great man. Hubert was there, sunk into his seat and looking completely lost. I gave him a big hug and tried to comfort him. That night he and many others played to honor the Wolf. Some of the many artists that night were Eddie Shaw, Detroit Junior, Lucille Spann, Lee Jackson, George Mayweather, Highway Man, Chico Chism, Eddie Burks, and Tail Dragger. This was the first time that I played with Hubert. This was also the night that I met Tail Dragger, who is one of my close friends to this day. After Wolf died Eddie Shaw tried to keep the band together with Hubert, Detroit Junior, Shorty Gilbert, and Chico. For awhile that worked, but eventually Hubert was lured off and spent some time in Texas with Clifford Antone and found comfort staying with his friend Sunnyland Slim who had a room for Hubert at his Southside Chicago home. Hubert had some trouble adjusting after the Wolf and often times seemed out of sorts. When I moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 1981 I lost touch with Hubert but when Chico moved to Phoenix in 1986 I felt a strong connection to those great days at the 1815 Club. Hubert came to Phoenix in 2006 to play at my 50th birthday party with a super band that also included Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Henry Gray, Bob Stroger, Little Frank, and Kenny Smith. This was the last time that Hubert and Chico saw each other (Chico died in early 2007 at age 79) but they were inseparable that night! I was trying to arrange a reunion of the original Wolf Gang for Chico's 80th birthday but that was sadly not to happen. Hubert also made a great showing at the Rhythm Room for Amanda's Roller Coaster (an amazing event) in October of 2010 and a cut from that great set with James Cotton and Kim Wilson will appear on a forthcoming live CD. I had the extreme privilege of performing with Hubert in October of this year at the King Biscuit Blues Festival (thank you Pat Morgan and Bob Margolin) and that may have been one of his last festival appearances. He played brilliantly that day but after his set was having a rough time catching his breath. So sorry to say goodbye to this wonderful man and his great legacy. He enriched everyone's life with his kindness and wisdom. My time in the 1970s at the 1815 Club was formative and I feel fortunate to have those wonderful experiences. Thank you Hubert for the important part you unknowingly, and yet so generously played in my life. I am forever grateful to have known you.

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