Hubert Sumlin
November 16th 1931 - December 4th 2011

I first met Hubert in 1970 at the Colonial Tavern in Toronto when he was playing with Howlin' Wolf. He was 39 years old at the time, a young man who dazzled me with his amazing style and tone. When I closed my eyes, he sounded like those Chess recordings I loved so much.

The bands at the Colonial used a very small sound system, nothing was miked except Wolf's vocal, yet the intensity of the sound was riveting. Over the next 6 years, until Howlin' Wolf's passing, I saw the band many times. What made Hubert's sound even more amazing was that each time I saw the band, he was playing a different guitar...a small Hofner hollow body, a Fender Telecaster Thinline, a Rickenbacker...not exactly what one thinks of as a "blues" guitar....but he ALWAYS sounded just like Hubert...that wonderful thick tone he managed to get, using no pick, just the sound of meat on strings.

In 1985, I had the wonderful opportunity to back Hubert up at the Pinetree Tavern for a whole week. He was 54 at the time. Colin Linden lived right across the street, above the Future Bakery. He was there lots, sitting in. Many of Toronto's blues players came down. Hubert had been hanging around Austin in those days, and was playing a new Stratocaster that Stevie Ray Vaughn had given him... he plugged into my amp, and not touching the controls at all, he filled the room with his unique tone. His tone was in his fingers, the way he mashed, pulled, and plucked those strings

Aside from his wonderful playing, Hubert was a gentle, friendly, and most unassuming fellow. Despite the fact that he was the "master", he told the band - "We all learn from one another" What a great philosophy. He was most proud of the fact that through music, he had escaped the toil and drudgery of the fields down south. He told a wonderful story about his older brother A.D., who was also a guitar player. "A.D. wouldn't show me nothin', but I got my own guitar and I had soul...and now he's still down there operatin' the wheats and the rice... and here I am!"

His decades-long tenure with Howlin' Wolf helped to create the Wolf's powerful sound, forging just as strong a musical partnership as Little Walter's harp was to Muddy Waters sound.

I last saw Hubert 2 years ago at a blues festival in Nova Scotia. he was there with his old friend James Cotton, and he sang "Sittin' on Top of the World" - smiling and happy.

There will never be another Hubert Sumlin,
and his influence will be felt all over the world
for as long as the blues survives.

A school somewhere in Toronto 1971 ?
I don't know how we got this gig. My pal Slim Smith wrangled it somehow. I was living at Rochdale College at the time, getting a higher education.

Same school gig with Slim Smith of Comanche Oklahoma. I'm playing my first National Steel guitar, found in a pawn shop for $90 - it had a big hole in the back ...still had the SOUND.

On the balcony, Walmer Road, Toronto 1970.
Just about to move into Rochdale, down the street.

Meetmarket Toronto 1972.
I was playing with the Rhythm Rockets when Sunnyland came to play this joint in the basement of the Colonial Tavern. I sat in the first night and he asked me to play the week. The Rhythm Rockets had to do without me! Sunnyland was a most generous and humble man, and taught me a lot. He could holler all that old-time stuff I loved. He played with them ALL - yes, even Robert Johnson.

Knights of the Mystic Sea 1973.
My first band as a leader. Phil Strong, drums, Paul Miller, sax and harp, Gator Jones, bass. Gator is one my oldest pals and resides in Florida on his palatial estate. Phil is
still playing in Toronto and I done lost track of Paul.

With the Knights of the Mystic Sea;
playing a gold glitter Goya borrowed from Ring Music. Dig the price tag... hey I was tryin', not buyin'!

Knights of the Mystic Sea promo shot, 1974.
This was the second line-up of my band. Fraser Finlayson on harp and vocals, Jimmy Reed on bass, and Danny Haugh on drums. Don't look like a blues band, you say? Simple. This was the beginning of disco time, and calling yourself a blues band on the Ontario circuit was the kiss of death..so....we got the crushed velvet tuxes, slick COLOR promo shot (most everybody else's were black and white) and didn't mention blues in the band name. When the agents and club owners asked what kind of music we played... we said "Dance music". So we was gainfully employed through them hard times and played NOTHIN" BUT THE BLUES.

My 1965 Pontiac "Catfish" in Florida.

I bought this Pontiac Catalina from friends of my folks - the back seat had never been sat in - for $30!!! Then I combed the junkyards for a light-up Pontiac Indian hood ornament, found one, had that thing put on custom, an' painted it dark metalflake green. A seriously bad ride. It helped win my wife's heart....we used that back seat.

Now seen on the front cover of my latest disc,
"Drive My Blues Away"... here it is stopped on Hiway 49 in Mississippi, outside Clarksdale on my way to Friars Point and West Helena, Arkansas. This was in 1978 on my way back to Canada after two years in California. I spent a month on that trip, wandering the south, visiting Gator and other old friends in Florida before forming the Catfish band.

El Mocambo 1978...
with my fancy-ass white disco suit. I recall going to the Neptune Bar B Q after a gig wearing this suit an' eatin' ribs in the parking lot with James Harman and Gene Taylor while we was drunk..I mean J..U..N... drunk..an' wakin' up the next morning to find NOT ONE DROP of barbeque sauce anywhere! Miracles do happen...

Pembroke Hotel on Pembroke Street,
Pembroke, Ontario.

I played this hotel for years. Really like going home to Momma's because they had five little ol' ladies cooking and meals were part of the deal. A week's vacation in the north. I remember sunbathing on the roof only to find tar all stuck to our blankets...and I recall waking up after my birthday celebrations the previous night...naked,
except for my boots..

Midwich Cuckoo Tavern Toronto 1975.
Playing with David Wilcox in his first band. David had just finished a stint with Maria Muldaur. As I recall, Amos Garrett was in the crowd that night. We was a wacky outfit - playing everything from Duke Ellington to Moe Bandy - David was wildly experimental. It was amazing to stand next to him every night and watch all that new stuff pour out of his soul.

Sundance Saloon Long Beach, California 1977.
After my charges were dropped in the U.S. in 1976, I went back down to California. Gene Taylor found me playing at a little joint called the Bodega. I went down to his gig and he knocked me out.
He introduced me to James Harman, who was in semi retirement... reconing speakers. Well, we convinced James to make a racket with us, and we started playing this house gig for no dough- passing the hat. Phil and Dave Alvin, later to form the Blasters, used to sit in regularly. After the gig - Neptune Bar-B-Q or Double Chili Cheeseburgers!!!!! The perfect late night snack.

Autoroute 20, outside Quebec City.
4 AM after the gig. Flat tire on the "Soul Train", my '69 Ford Econoline. Steve Chadwick chronicles all.
(the rest of the band changes the tire.)

Long Beach 1976. Ed Dopera.
I went to visit Ed at his HoundDog instrument company to have my old National fixed up. He was a great guy, took a lot of time to show me around and tell me about the days of inventing the Dobro and National guitars with his brothers. This was a custom gold plated, fancy inlay, deluxe, superfine one of a kind showpiece!

That's me and my old buddy James Harman,
clowning around with some of James' vintage collection of all kinda cool musical stuff what we pulled out of his garage in California. Talkin' bout back in 1977...when we were young men...no grey hair, running wild and making a racket!

Catfish Manor 1978.
This was our promo shot - in our living room. Me an' Gene was sharing a house with Crawdad, a dobro player in Toronto's east end, one block from McDonalds. Gary Kendall played bass and Danny Haugh was our drummer.

El Mocambo 1979.
Howie Zephyr, winner of the catfish contest held by the band. Folks brought everything from 1 pounders to giant stuffed cats to this winner, 8 3/4 pounds. The prize was a box of beer, baloney sandwiches and a day fishin' with the band on Lake Erie...or fifty bucks. Howie took the fifty.

Midwich Cuckoo New Year's Eve 1979.
The Midwich was in the Westminster Hotel, which was the official hotel of all the blues guys who came to town. Muddy, the Wolf, they all stayed there. I took lotsa blues lessons in those rooms - first met Al Lerman in Carey Bell's room! Muddy taught me "Can't Be Satisfied" after Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, Muddy's bass man,dragged me to Muddy's room so he could hear me play.All those cats were so generous...Muddy would have all his meals delivered from the Underground Railroad, the only soul food restaurant in Toronto. From 1969 - 1975 I saw Bukka White, Johnny Shines, Son House, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Muddy, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sunnyland Slim, and many more.
What a great blues town Toronto was!!

Schooner Olympics, Halifax l981
Some crazy kinda action after the gig.

Albert's Hall Dec. 1983, Albert King.
I got to open for one of my heroes - King of the microtonal bends - playin' upside-down backwards and left-handed! Me an' Colin Linden watched him from the front row, hopin' to cop some stuff. After about two songs we looked at each other, held out our outstreched palms and shrugged - it was like watching a guy from another planet. Albert could pull them little strings instead of pushing them, and got more stuff out of one fret than any other player
I've ever seen...

Mariposa Folk Fest Mid 80's Yank Rachel.
A great player who began recording in the late 20's with Sleepy John Estes. I was playing that "Going down to Brownsville, take that right hand road.." stuff and he popped into the tent, listening. Afterwards he told me "I recorded that song in 1929". I said, "Yes sir, that's the record I stole my version from." He cracked up.

El Mocambo 1983. Sitting in with the Blasters.
Gene Taylor had played with me from 1978 - 1980
and his reputation grew. After stints with Downchild, Ronnie Hawkins, and Amos Garrett, Phil asked Gene to join the Blasters in California. Well, a chance to tour the world AND play with Lee Allen? I had a ball sittin' in... they rocked that stage!!!!!!

We in the big time now boys.
Finally UPSTAIRS at the El Mo
after serving many, many years downstairs.

Grossman's Tavern Toronto.
On my way to record with Tom Jardin,
the hardest workin' all - around musician's friend.
Tom supplied the two live cuts on my first LP.

PineTree Tavern 1984 Snooky Pryor.
As I recall this was Snooky's first gig in Toronto. He was full of energy...a blues dynamo! Man, did we have some fun and Snooky worked us as hard as he worked himself! Snooky was a pioneer of amplified harp, the bridge between Sonny Boy and Little Walter. Gene Taylor, a serious record collector, was amazed to see this obscure name from old record labels performing in Toronto.

Pine Tree Tavern Toronto 1984 Hubert Sumlin.
My all-time favorite guitar player.
MAN, you got to know that I watched Hubert way back with The Wolf 15 years before this - and then I got to back him up with my band for a whole week!! And EVERYBODY came down that week - Colin Linden, Mike Pickett, Donny Walsh and the Hock, well, they all wanted to listen to or play with Hubert. What a gentleman,
and the HELLUVEST guitar player. I got lots of Hubert stories...
I'm sure he won't mind if I pass one on now and then...

Please visit Hubert's site]

Huntin' for hawgs after the gig.
My bassman Steve Chadwick and I used to do a lot of fishing on the road. I used to time my gigs in Lindsay, Ontario for the walleye opener - 12 midnight - we'd pack up the gear and run to the river. Haulin' in walleye to take back to Hogtown.

Breaking NEWS
in the History section:

The Astro Van hits a HALF-a-MILLION "K"

Well now folks here's how it all come to be...

I bought the Astro van back in '98. I was then driving the second of my Suburbans, and gas prices were climbing. The Suburban got about 11 MPG (with the wind behind it), so I had to go economy... bought the Astro because you sit up high, (so good visability), and it had a 6 instead of the big 350 V-8.

Well now, all these kilometers, over 11 years, comes to about 43,000 kms (or about 25,000 miles) a year!... that would be the circumference of this earth!
So each year, I drive the equivalent of once around the world.

I change the oil every 5000 kms (3000 miles), keep the tire pressure right, and listen close when it's talkin' to you.

Hey General Motors!!... I'm ready for sponsorship!

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