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Hubert Sumlin Dead

December 5, 2011 by staff 

Hubert Sumlin Dead, Hubert Sumlin, the influential blues guitarist who made his name as a sideman for Howlin’ Wolf and recently ranked 43rd on Rolling Stone’s list of history’s top 100 axmen, died Sunday (Dec. 4) of heart failure. He was 80.

Born in Greenwood, Miss., Sumlin backed singer James Cotton in Memphis before relocating to Chicago in 1953. There, he joined forces with Howlin’ Wolf, forging a partnership that would last until the legendary bluesman’s death in 1976.

Along the way, Sumlin played on such enduring Wolf tracks as ‘Smokestack Lightning,’ ‘Killing Floor’ and ‘Spoonful.’ The latter two cuts were famously covered by Jimi Hendrix and Cream, respectively, two of the many rock acts to draw inspiration from his fiery fretwork.

Jimmy Page was also an avowed fan, as was Stevie Ray Vaughan, who once gave Sumlin a vintage Rickenbacker guitar. According to the New York Times, Keith Richards helped him pay medical bills, which were likely considerable, since he had a lung removed in 2004.

Sumlin continued performing until the end of his life, and last year, he and relative newcomer Kenny Wayne Shepherd earned a Grammy nomination for their ‘Live! in Chicago’ album. They didn’t win, and Sumlin sadly went 0-for-4 at the Grammys in his lifetime.

Despite his lack of gramophone statuettes, Sumlin clearly left his mark. In a thoughtful tribute piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, Dave Hoekstra makes the case for his lasting importance.

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