The Rolling Stones Celebrate Blues Legend Hubert Sumlin

by M-Gillies
The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones have picked up the tab for blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin's funeral.

For any musicologist, it’s no argument that the Rolling Stones rooted their repertoire around the traditional verities of rhythm-and-blues music. With a sound that assimilated various musical genres they soon became known for spearheading the emergence of the primitive urban blues sound, but for the young guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page, it was the sound of Howlin’ Wolf’s earthy lyrics and bestial growl lacquered with the terse and inventive sound of Hubert Sumlin’s guitar.

For most of his career, Sumlin was neither a singer nor a songwriter, instead, Sumlin’s credentials were more impeccable. Performing alongside Wolf, Sumlin’s reputation was based primarily on his extraordinary and idiosyncratic performances, often stealing the scene, even from such a charismatic performer as Howlin’ Wolf.

Even as Howlin’ Wolf performed to rabidly enthusiastic crowds, Sumlin soon developed a cult following from the likes of The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream, Led Zepplin, Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few.

Hubert Sumlin died on December 4, 2011 at the age of 80 years

Born in Greenville, Mississippi on November 16, 1931, Sumlin first began playing guitar at the age of six. However, it wasn’t until Sumlin began sneaking into a club performance of Howlin’ Wolf that an impression was made on the young guitarist. After being recruited to the band in ’55, Sumlin soon started stealing the show from Wolf with his impressive abrupt guitar lines and catchy riffs.

However, the two musicians had a famously tempestuous relationship which involved numerous fistfights and sackings.

“We were like father and son, although we had some tremendous fights,” Sumlin said in a 1994 interview. “He knocked my teeth out, and I knocked his out. None of it mattered; we always got right back together.”

By the ’70s, Wolf and Sumlin travelled to Britain to record with an all-star British team which included Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones, as well as one song by the Beatles’ Ringo Starr. However, Wolf, who was 20 years Sumlin’s senior, required a kidney dialysis machine to monitor his poor health.

After Wolf’s death, Sumlin performed with the renamed Howlin’ Wolf band, calling themselves The Wolf Pack. However, the group disbanded in the ’80s. Meanwhile, Sumlin moved onto solo projects, eventually receiving recognition for his work, including a 2008 Blues Foundation award and numerous Grammy awards.

As the years passed, Sumlin’s health became fragile in the final decades of his life. In 2002 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and soon after surgery was blighted with respiratory problems, which saw him requiring the use of an oxygen mask while performing onstage.

In the wake of Sumlin’s death from a heart failure on December 4, 2011, long-time admirers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have announced that they will be covering the costs of Sumlin’s funeral.

“With sorrow I received the news of Hubert’s passing,” Richards said. “He put up a long hard fight. To me he was an uncle and a teacher, and all the guitar players must feel the same as myself.”

“I just wanted to share with you, Hubert’s loving fans, that Mick and Keith have insisted on picking up the full expenses for Hubert’s funeral,” said Sumlin’s manager and partner Toni Ann Mamary. “God bless the Rolling Stones.”

While The Blues Foundation had previously made an open call to donate to the HART Fund for Hubert’s burial, with any remaining money to be allocated to other blues musicians in similar need, Richards said it is an honour to contribute to paying for Sumlin’s service.

“Hubert was an incisive yet delicate blues player,” Jagger wrote. “He had a really distinctive and original tone and was a wonderful foil for Howlin’ Wolf’s growling vocal style, he was an inspiration to us all.”

Read more:

The Rolling Stones Pay For Hubert Sumlin’s Burial | American Blues Scene

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