Hubert Sumlin's most famous, and to which he is most associated, contribution to the world of music and the blues is his enduring guitar accompaniment for Howlin' Wolf. Even if he never picked up a guitar after that, his place in the blues hierarchy would be secure. But he has gone on to be very much his own man and earned his rightful place on his own terms and talent.
Hubert Sumlin was born on November 16, 1931 in Greenwood, Mississippi and raised in Hughes, Arkansas. He was taken by the great Blues players he heard -- Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, and Son House. Hubert was born to take his place with these masters. His brother A.D. had nailed baling wire to a wall and plucked music out of it. Hubert told his mother that he wanted a guitar and she spent her entire $5 weekly paycheck to buy him his first. Good investment!
When Hubert was about 10, he sneaked out to the local juke joint and stood on a pile of Coca Cola crates to see Howlin’ Wolf. Drawn in by the music, he fell through the window and landed right on the stage. The club owner tried to throw out the underage boy, but Wolf insisted that Hubert stay and sit on the stage while he played. He later took Hubert home to his Mama and asked that he not be punished.
A few years later, Hubert and James Cotton started a band together. Howlin’ Wolf heard about them in West Memphis and soon brought Hubert to Chicago. Along with Wolf’s other great guitar players in the ‘50s, Willie Johnson and Jody Williams, Hubert contributed to some of the deepest, darkest, most primitive and powerful Blues the world has ever known. Hubert was developing his own guitar style, but still had a way to go. Hubert tells of how Wolf once told him to step down from the bandstand, complaining that Hubert was playing over his voice. Wolf suggested that Hubert lose the guitar picks, letting Hubert play softer but with more expression and tone. Embarrassed and hurt, Hubert went home to woodshed. He was talented enough to turn the setback into an opportunity for greatness and strong enough to return. Hubert developed a guitar style based on the human touch of flesh on steel, perfectly framing and answering Wolf’s roars and moans, and soloing with pain and humor, trouble and transcendence.