Howlin’ For Hubert
When Hubert Sumlin passed away on December 4th, 2011, it’s effect was such that Eric Clapton, touring in Japan at the time with Steve Winwood, dedicated that evening’s concert in Tokyo to him and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards insisted on paying his funeral costs. Since a benefit show for the Jazz Foundation of America which helps impoverished musicians (not just jazz musicians) pay the bills for their basic necessities. It was to have been a celebration of his 80th birthday, but since he passed away, it became a memorial show.
The stunning array of talent on display in a show lasting almost four hours illustrates the depth of his influence on contemporary music. He began his career in the early fifties as Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, and as such helped form the basic guitar style of twentieth century blues and rock. At the time of his death Mick Jagger said “Hubert was an incisive yet delicate blues player. He had a really distinctive and original tone, and was a wonderful foil for Howlin’ Wolf’s growling vocal style. On a song like ‘Going Down Slow’ he could produce heart rending emotion, and on a piece like ‘Wang Dang Doodle,’ ‘an almost playful femininity. He was an inspiration to us all” and Keith Richards stated “To me he was an uncle and a teacher, and all the guitar players must feel the same as myself.”
The 1500 seat Apollo Theater in Harlem was the perfect venue. Intimate and yet historic, it hosted one of the greatest concerts of the year with some of the greatest talent assembled. Soon after the show a CDR title was pressed and released, but shortly afterwards Howlin’ For Hubert was pressed onto silver sourced from an excellent DAT audience tape.
The Apollo Theater, New York, NY – February 24th, 2012
Disc 1 (72:12): Video intro., Key To The Highway (Eric Clapton & James Cotton), Jeffrey Wright Introduction, Big Head Todd intro., Roll Where You Want Hubert Sumlin (Big Head Todd), Six Strings Down (Jimmy Vaughan), Jody Williams and Kenny Wayne Shepherd intros, Lucky Lou (Jody Williams and Kenny Wayne Shepherd), Jimmy Vivino and David Johansen intros, Evil (Jody Williams, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jimmy Vivino, David Johansen & Kim Wilson), Ronnie Baker Brooks and Lonnie Brooks intros, Born In Chicago – Sweet Home Chicago, Eddy Shaw and Henry Gray intros., Sittin’ On Top Of The World (Eddie Eddy Shaw & Henry Gray), Henry Gray Boogie (Henry Gray), Elvis Costello intro., Hidden Charms (Elvis Costello, Eddie Eddy Shaw & Henry Gray), Warren Haynes intro., You’ll Be Mine (Warren Haynes), Billy Gibbons intro., I Asked For Water (Warren Haynes & Billy Gibbons), Mister Highway Man (Warren Haynes & Billy Gibbons)
The long night starts off with a video introduction about Sumlin. The first live music is a duet on “Key To The Highway” by Eric Clapton and James Cotton. They leave the stage to massive applause as Jeffrey Wright, one of the greatest and must under-appreciated actors in Hollywood today, comes onstage boasting “and that’s how we’re doing it tonight.”
He goes on to say that he met Sumlin when he hosted the 2009 Presidential After-hours inaugural party in Washington DC. He provides commentary and continuity through the massive show, providing insight and humor. The funniest crack he makes when speaking about the 1920’s, describing it as a time when a loaf of bread cost 5¢, gallon of gas 20¢ and an iPad was only $15.
The first hour of the show showcases a dizzying amount of names starting with the band Big Head Todd. Sumlin’ recorded with the band earlier in the year making them one of the last bands to work with the guitarist.
Jimmy Vaughan follows with “Six Strings Down,” the song he wrote to commemorate his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1995 and applies to all guitarists including Sumlin. They’re joined by younger guitarists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd. One of the highlights on the first disc is when Ronnie Baker Brooks and Lonnie Brooks play “Born In Chicago” with “Sweet Home Chicago” as a short medley.
Elvis Costello has an early slot in the program playing “Hidden Charms.” After him Warren Haynes (Dickey Betts Band, The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule) plays “You’ll Be Mine” and is joined by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and together play “I Asked For Water” and “Mister Highway Man.”
Disc 2 (76:55): Intro To Jazz Foundation, Wendy Oxenhorn speaks, Toni Ann Mamary (Hubert’s manager) speaks, house band intros., Who’s Been Talking (Kim Wilson), Keb Mo intro., Howlin’ For My Baby (Keb Mo & Eddie Eddy Shaw) , Doyle Bramhall II intro., Commit A Crime (Doyle Bramhall, Jimmy Vaughan & Keb Mo), Derek Trucks intro, Meet Me At the Bottom (Derek Trucks & Jimmy Vaughan), Susan Tedeschi intro., How Many More Years (Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks), Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy (Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks), Robert Randolph intro., Who Do You Love (Robert Randolph & Jody Williams), Buddy Guy intro., Quinn Sullivan intro., I’m Goin’ Down (Buddy Guy & Quinn Sullivan), Hoochie Coochie Man (Buddy Guy & Robert Randolph), Shemekia Copeland intro., Beggin’ You Please (Buddy Guy & Shemekia Copeland)
The second disc begins with a long introduction and speech. Wendy Oxenhorn, current director of The Jazz Foundation, speaks about the mission of providing rent and grocery money for old musicians who can no longer support themselves She points out that Sumlin himself couldn’t afford the health care he needed. Sumlin’s manager Toni Ann Mamary also speaks about the life of the guitarist.
Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, who is part of the house band, plays “Who’s Been Talking.” The quality of talent builds as Doyle Bramhall II joins the band along with Keb Mo and Derek Trucks. “Meet Me At The Bottom” is one of the highlights of the second hour.
Susan Tedeschi sings a cover of “How Many More Years” and “Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy.” Robert Randolph leads the band into a brutal version of “Who Do You Love” and Buddy Guy dominates with “I”m Going Down” and an almost definitive version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Disc 3 (67:57): Gary Clark Jr. Intro., Catfish Blues (Gary Clark Jr.), Eric Clapton intro., Shake For Me (Eric Clapton & Gary Clark Jr.), Little Baby (Eric Clapton & Gary Clark Jr.), 44 Blues (Eric Clapton, Gary Clark Jr. & Jody Williams), Goin’ Down Slow (Eric Clapton, Keith Richards & Gary Clark Jr.), Keith Richards intro., Little Red Rooster (Keith Richards & James Cotton), Spoonful (Keith Richards, Eric Clapton & James Cotton), Wang Dang Doodle (All Musicians on stage), Smokestack Lightning (All Musicians on stage)
The final disc starts off with Gary Clark Jr. playing “Catfish Blues.” Clapton, who started off the show, returns and plays “Shake For Me” and “Little Baby” with Clark. The two are joined by Jody Williams (making a return to the stage) for “44 Blues,” one of Clapton’s all time favorite blues tunes.
Afterwards, as Patrick Doyle reported in rollingstone.com: “Close to midnight last night at New York’s Apollo Theater, Eric Clapton had just finished a thunderous take on classic blues number ‘Forty Four’ when Keith Richards ambled onstage with no introduction. Wearing a dark blazer, long green scarf, fedora and a huge grin, he embraced Clapton and stood center stage to massive applause, delivering a smoky take on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Going Down Slow,’ a chronicle of a frail man who has savored life’s greatest pleasures. ‘Man, I’ve had things that kings and queens will never have,’ Richards growled. ‘In fact, they don’t even know about them, let alone get ’em. And good times? Mmmm…’ He hovered around Clapton and then stood sidestage by the piano while Clapton delivered a throaty verse and then weaved clean-toned solos with young Austin guitarist Gary Clark Jr… It was Richards’ first major musical appearance since the Rolling Stones last toured five years ago, and he showed little rust.”
After Richards is finally introduced, he plays a great cover of “Little Red Rooster,” one of The Rolling Stones’ favorite blues covers, with James Cotton. Clapton rejoins the band for a spooky and unsettling performance of the Cream arrangement of the Howlin’ Wolf / Willie Dixon song “Spoonful.”
All of the musicians then come onstage for two final songs, “Wang Dang Doodle” and a sloppy but powerful version of “Smokestack Lightening.”
Howlin’ For Hubert is a massive show and a great title to have. It captures the joy and sorry of the event perfectly. Pushing four hours, it’s a massive epic that when heard in one sitting, can be an overwhelming experience. This is a recommended title for fans of Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf, Chicago electric blues, Americana, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Elvis Costello etc etc etc.