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Published: 2011/12/05
by Grace Beehler

Hubert Sumlin: 1931-2011

Photo by Dino Perrucci

Veteran blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin died Sunday, December 4, 2011 of heart failure. He was 80.

Sumlin began his musical career in Memphis, backing singer and harmonica player James Cotton. While Cotton went on to join Muddy Waters, Sumlin joined with Howlin’ Wolf. Best known as Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, Sumlin played on numbers like “Killing Floor,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Hidden Charms” and “Smokestack Lightning.”

The Mississippi native ranks at number 43 on Rolling Stone ’s list of history’s top 100 guitarists. Sumlin remained with Wolf until his death in 1976, and then recorded solo sessions. In 2004, Sumlin recorded About Them Shoes , which featured Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Levon Helm, James Cotton and David Johansen. Sumlin was nominated for four Grammys in his lifetime (most recently for his work with Kenny Wayne Shephard on Live! in Chicago ), and though he never won, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Keith Richards were loyal fans.

He continued performing and recording until his death. In 2006, Sumlin performed with Little Feat at the Jammys, and in March he joined The Allman Brothers Band at their annual Beacon Theater run for “Smokestack Lightnin’” and “Key to the Highway.” He celebrated his 80th birthday last month with a special show at Teaneck, NJ’s Mexicali Live.

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