Sumlin tells 'the truth'

June 02, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

You've got to feel the blues to truly play blues music, legendary blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin said Saturday before his set at the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

It's a lesson Sumlin, 70, said he learned from such genre greats as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, for whom he played guitar for more than 20 years.

"Every word Wolf said, he meant it. He lived it," Sumlin said. "I don't play it unless I feel it. You've got to tell the truth."


Sumlin has been playing the blues since his mother spent a week's salary to buy him his first guitar at age 8. Musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughn have praised the Mississippi native's dynamic guitar playing.

"Hubert is the heaviest, most original guitar player I've ever heard in my life," Vaughn once said.

Sumlin has been a major player in the Chicago blues scene since he joined Howlin' Wolf there in 1954.

He helped shape the sound of modern rock music, formulating the original music to such classics as "Backdoor Man" and "Sittin' On Top of the World." His music has been adopted by bands such as Cream, The Doors and The Greatful Dead, according to the Hubert Sumlin Web site.

But Sumlin said he wouldn't pass up an opportunity to play in a small venue such as Hagerstown because of his impressive background.

"If Jimi (Hendrix) was living, I'm sure he'd play here, too," Sumlin said. "Musicians go where the music is."

Relaxing in a tan suit, Panama hat and guitar tie under a tent behind the festival's main stage early Saturday afternoon, Sumlin promised to give Blues Fest patrons a big dose of his "wide open" guitar style.

"They won't know where I'm going when I start playing," he said.

Sumlin takes his musical inspiration from his life experiences and the audiences before which he plays, he said. The "bluesy vibe" he felt from Saturday's crowd would energize Sumlin's performance, he said.

"You can feel the people," he said. "We're going to have some fun today."

And they did.

The crowd converged on the main Potomac Street stage when Sumlin and special guest guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin began playing at 2 p.m.

"He's a guitar legend," said Allen Cole of Culpeper, Va.

The crowd erupted in cheers when Sumlin tore into one of many guitar riffs during his high-energy performance and launched into "Sittin' On Top of the World."

"This is where it gets good," local musician Pete Lancaster said. "This is classic soul."

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