The Jimi Vincent Band

Keepin' The Blues Alive



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.

"The 1953 summit of Mr. Sumlin and Wolf was to blues what the meeting of
Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley was to rock just a year later," Hoekstra wrote.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

*Grammy-winning blues musician Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who was a longtime sideman for Muddy Waters, died of a stroke on Friday in Chicago at age 75, according to a statement on his website.

Smith’s death comes less than six months after the passing at age 97 of blues master Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, with whom Smith shared a Grammy win this year in the best traditional blues album category for their 2010 release “Joined at the Hip.”

Smith said backstage at the Grammy Awards that he first met Perkins as a boy and was glad to have found success recording with his elder. “To tell you the truth, right now I’m one of the happiest men on earth,” he said at the February event.

While the Grammy win at age 75 was Smith’s first, he had previously had a long career playing with the late blues legend Muddy Waters.

Born in Helena, Arkansas, in 1936, Smith went to Chicago at age 17 and heard Waters playing for the first time. He later joined Waters’ band as a drummer in the early 1960s.

In 1964, Smith was forced to pack up his drum kit for a time and he supported himself with odd jobs such as driving a taxicab in Chicago, according to a profile on his website.

But Smith rejoined Waters’ band in 1968 and played with him through the 1970s, the period when Waters won his six Grammys.

Aside from the drums, Smith also played the harmonica and sang. In the 1980s, he performed in the Legendary Blues Band with Perkins, Louis Myers, Calvin Jones and Jerry Portnoy.

Neil Portnow, president and CEO of The Recording Academy, said in a statement that Smith was a “great, versatile Chicago bluesman” who “made an indelible impact” on the blues genre.

“Our sincerest condolences extend to his family, friends, fans and all who will continue to appreciate his rhythm and riffs for generations to come,” Portnow said.