Hubert Sumlin and Howard Tate, R.I.P.
"I was by him like [pianist Otis] Spann was Muddy Waters." So the late Hubert Sumlin describes his inseparable connection to Howlin' Wolf in this documentary footage. Was there a more essential partnership in blues? Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell? Tampa Red and Big Maceo? Muddy and Little Walter? Junior Wells and Buddy Guy? They all seem conventional when compared with the primordial Wolf and otherworldly Hubert, whose stunning guitar lines wove in and around Wolf's earthshaking blues for nearly 25 years. Sumlin, who died yesterday at the age of 80 as reported by the Chicago Sun Times, was celebrated in his later years by Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and other guitar players who'd borrowed liberally from his work, but he often seemed like an orphaned son after Wolf's death in 1976.
Here’s a piece of Holy Grail blues footage of Wolf in 1966 performing “How Many More Years,” which he’d first recorded in 1951. Sumlin wasn’t with him then, but he’s here, and that’s the Delta blues legend Son House playing maestro from a bar stool. Wolf’s opening monologue connecting poverty and "devilment" comes straight out of blues lore and transcends it too.
From the same sound stage, here’s Hubert with a highly-animated Wolf playing the Robert Johnson/Elmore James classic, “Dust My Broom.”
Additional sad news was reported tonight on All Things Considered about the passing of soul singer Howard Tate on Friday. Here’s the report, which links to Terry Gross's interview with Tate on Fresh Air and other NPR features on the Philadelphia native.
I'll credit Paul Butterfield with turning me on to both Wolf and a soul classic by Tate. Butterfield’s 1965 debut recording featured Wolf’s former rhythm section of Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay playing a set of bedrock Chicago-style blues. And Butterfield recorded Tate’s “Where Did My Baby Go” on his 1969 LP, Keep On Moving, which was produced by Tate’s longtime manager and producer Jerry Ragavoy.
Tate was featured at the 2005 Long Beach Blues Festival singing Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." Performed shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the clip includes extensive footage of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.