" Living the Blues "
Living The Blues reconstructs most of the career of Hubert Sumlin who played with the Howlin' Wolf Band for twenty-five years. Sumlin's distinctive sound helped shape the Wolf’s recordings almost as much as Wolf did. Also included are informal recordings of Sumlin with talking segments, and guest artists and interviews with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ronnie Earl, James Cotton, Howlin' Wolf, and others. Even though the DVD states that there’s supposed to be "bonus material" it's all lumped together on the same track, with no special features. The “bonus material” consists of a previously released Homespun Tapes instructional video titled "The Sound of Hubert Sumlin" with Jimmy Vivino, Mike Merritt, David Johansen aka: (as the back credits only read) Buster Pointdexter, and Levon Helm. Also included is an article Sumlin wrote "My Years with Wolf" but I could not find the liner noted pdf file.
The video starts with a youthful Sumlin (no dates are offered) playing acoustic. Though the video doesn't often match the audio, it’s an overall good performance. Onward Sumlin references the Wolf saying "Wolf had a way to get the best out of his musicians, and there was no better man in the world." And opines, "that the Blues is here to stay" Vaughan is interviewed and states, "Hubert ’s always had his head on his shoulders, and his heart in the right place, and I love Hubert to death. There ’s also a short duo jam with Earl who says, "Hubert made the sound for the Wolf." These are precious and appropriate quotes.
Sumlin recalls his Chicago days with the Wolf and Muddy Waters, how he was wilder when he was younger, and how he was always looking for girls. Sumlin cites his 1964 trip to Europe with the Chicago All-Stars as the highlight of his life, and why not; he was on tour with Chicago's greatest bluesmen. He also got to play on German television and recorded his first solo album. Sumlin also played in Liverpool where he met the Beatles and was introduced to the Rolling Stones.
A consistently more outspoken and animated Sumlin goes on to talk about his love for Wolf. "For me Wolf still lives, the man ain't dead to me, he ’s probably looking down at me right now, and let me tell you that I'm gonna be around for a long time!"
There's a "Back To Mississippi" segment that is not recorded well where the audio and performances (some with Son Thomas and Eddie Taylor) are just so-so. The final portion is taken from the Homespun video, the previously mentioned where the band performs "Killing Floor" and "Smokestack Lightning." The picture-in-picture effect is interesting as the main portion shows Sumlin's fret-board work, and the smaller picture focuses on Sumlin’s fingerpicking. By the way, and as per usual, Vivino's supporting guitar playing is always a joy, but Johansen's vocals were over the top, and I wasn't crazy about his harp work either. These passages, however, offer the best audio and video on the entire disc.
In summary, this DVD is well worth your time and dollars. It may not be as complete as I would have liked it to be, but it did offer some welcome surprises. Could it have been done better, yes, (especially if there were more detailed and specific liner notes,) but it's all-good and serves up the great Hubert Sumlin like I’ve never heard him speak before. Enjoy.
Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com