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Talkin’ Blues with Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Charles Sumlin met Howlin’ Wolf as a boy when he snuck into a performance to see him, but it was not until 1954 that he joined the band. And in 1955 he replaced Jody Williams as Howlin’ Wolf’s primary guitarist, a position he would hold for the remainder of Wolf’s career (except for a brief stint with Muddy Waters). 

Sumlin admitted on many occasions, including this interview from Mako Funasaka during the Boston Blues Festival for his Talkin’ Blues series, that Wolf had become like a father to him. Many could envy the close relationship he developed with the pioneer, as Howlin’ Wolf even invested in Hubert’s future like he would one’s own child, including sending him to the Chicago Conservatory of Music to learn keyboards and scales. 

 

As Howlin’ Wolf’s protege, Sumlin acquired quite a few stories about the pioneering titan, and as he liked to say, “he learned him some things.” In the interview, one of the anecdotes he shares is from when Howlin’ Wolf recommended, not to say demanded, that he drop the pick and learn to play the guitar with his fingers. Wolf insisted that this was going to be crucial for Sumlin to “find himself” and develop as a guitar player. And indeed Sumlin gives great credit to all the music he was able to make henceforth with a whole galaxy of blues stars to that very experience with his mentor.

 

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