Hubert Charles Sumlin (November 16, 1931 – December 4, 2011) was a Chicago blues guitarist and singer, best known for his “wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions” as a member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band. Sumlin was listed as number 43 in the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Sumlin played a 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar and a Louis Electric Model HS M12 amplifier.
Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Sumlin was raised in Hughes, Arkansas. He got his first guitar when he was eight years old. As a boy, Sumlin first met Howlin’ Wolf by sneaking into a performance. When Wolf relocated from Memphis to Chicago in 1953, his long-time guitarist Willie Johnson chose not to join him. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Wolf first hired Chicago guitarist Jody Williams, and in 1954 Wolf invited Sumlin to relocate to Chicago to play second guitar in his Chicago-based band. Williams left the band in 1955, leaving Sumlin as the primary guitarist, a position he held almost continuously (except for a brief spell playing with Muddy Waters around 1956) for the remainder of Wolf’s career. According to Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf sent Sumlin to a classical guitar instructor at the Chicago Conservatory of Music for a while to learn the keyboards and scales. Sumlin played on the album Howlin’ Wolf, also called The Rockin’ Chair Album, which was named the third greatest guitar album of all time by Mojo magazine in 2004.
Sumlin performing in France on December 17, 1975. Five days later he recorded the “My Guitar and Me” album.
Upon Wolf’s death in 1976, Sumlin continued on with several other members of Wolf’s band under the name “The Wolf Pack” until about 1980. Sumlin also recorded under his own name, beginning with a session from a tour of Europe with Wolf in 1964. His final solo effort was About Them Shoes, released in 2004 by Tone-Cool Records. He underwent lung removal surgery the same year, yet continued performing until just before his death. His final recording, just days before his demise were tracks laid down for the Stephen Dale Petit album “Cracking The Code” (333 Records).
Sumlin was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2008. He was nominated for four Grammy Awards: in 1999 for the album Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf with Henry Gray, Calvin Jones, Sam Lay, and Colin Linden, in 2000 for Legends with Pinetop Perkins, in 2006 for his solo project About Them Shoes (which featured performances by Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Levon Helm, David Johansen and James Cotton) and in 2010 for his participation on Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Live! in Chicago. He won multiple Blues Music Awards, and was a judge for the fifth annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
He died on December 4, 2011, in a hospital in Wayne, New Jersey, of heart failure at the age of 80. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards paid Sumlin’s funeral costs