Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The One Percenters Of The Music World

Hubert Sumlin died Sunday. If you ask 10 people if they've ever heard of this guy, I'd say maybe TWO would know him. If you ask 10 people if they've ever heard of Eric Clapton, of course they have. All of them.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for hard rocking Brit bands. I've been reading some interviews with Jim Dickinson, a Memphis music legend, and he has to defy political correctness to say that black people play the blues, and white people CAN'T play the blues, they play ROCK. And ROCK is cool. For one thing, the Brits made it LOUD, and they just hit everything HARDER. Good stuff in there.

Cream put out an album "Wheels of Fire." If you add up the tracks on this album, it should've had a disclaimer on it, "30% Hubert Sumlin," because about a side and a half had Sumlin as the foundation, and Clapton just blasted out over it and that was that. Extra downer here in that Sumlin was a sideman, and did not get any songwriting royalties when these songs were covered. Led Zeppelin tried to go even further and get around the songwriting royalties, they just STOLE songs from Willie Dixon and retitled them, until they had to go to court. This is part of why my favorites were The Who. They were not quite as derivative. It was really "ROCK" and not just "ROCK (that we made from blues)."

I don't begrudge these Brits their success. I love those records. Plus the Brits jammed with Hubert on his records to help him out. Can't help noticing though...Eric Clapton can roll out of bed tomorrow and phone his booking agent and get 30 gigs across the U.S. with about 25,000 people in each hall, charge $200 and up for tickets and make millions of dollars. Just like THAT.

I saw Hubert Sumlin once, at a place called Abilene Cafe in NYC. He was unbelievable, and he walked out in the street with a long guitar cable to jam with the passing traffic. The taxis honked at him, standing on the corner. Abilene Cafe held maybe 200 people. If he made $3,000 that night it would've been a lot.

So if you apply the "Occupy Wall Street" logic, my Brit guitar heroes are actually the One Percenters of music. Isn't every business ultimately like this? The richest of the rich rock hedge fund managers, living in castles, chauffered in limos, and no doubt able to boff models whenever they like despite their advanced age. And then there's Hubert Sumlin, working man.

RIP to an all-timer.
Hubert Sumlin, the guitarist whose slashing solos and innovative ideas galvanized the blues of Howlin’ Wolf and inspired rock guitar players like Jimmy Page, Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton, died on Sunday in Wayne, N.J. He was 80.

His death was announced on his official Web site, hubertsumlinblues.com. No cause was specified.

Mr. Sumlin began appearing on Howlin’ Wolf’s recordings in 1953, first as a rhythm guitarist and then, beginning in 1955, on lead guitar. Mr. Sumlin’s eerie guitar counterpart to Howlin’ Wolf’s unearthly moaning on the 1956 hit “Smokestack Lightnin’ ” has lately been featured in a television commercial for Viagra. He also played lead on “Back Door Man,” “Spoonful” and “The Red Rooster,” all written and arranged by the Chicago blues trailblazer Willie Dixon.

“Dixon’s often astute novelty lyrics and shrewd arrangements were topped off by Sumlin’s imaginative, angular, taut attack, frequent glisses, maniacally wide vibrato and percussive chords, all drawn with an exaggerated brush,” the producer Dick Shurman observed of Mr. Sumlin’s relentlessly inventive playing in his liner notes to a 1991 boxed set of Howlin’ Wolf’s work for Chess Records.

“Back Door Man,” “Spoonful” and “The Red Rooster” were later made even more famous in versions released, respectively, by the Doors, Cream and the Rolling Stones. All three originally appeared on Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 LP “Howlin’ Wolf,” which the critic Greil Marcus called “the finest of all Chicago blues albums,” largely because of Mr. Sumlin’s contribution.

[NY Times]

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