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Pop Music Review

Veteran Bluesman Sumlin Still Strikes a Vital Chord

July 07, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"I'm an old guy, but I ain't too bad, I hope," bluesman Hubert Sumlin told his appreciative audience at the Mint on Wednesday.

That was some understatement coming from the erstwhile Howlin' Wolf sideman, whose raw, discordantly elastic guitar work influenced a generation of rock icons four-plus decades ago.

On this first of two nights, he proved a vital living link to the music that remains the heartbeat of rock 'n' roll.

Backed by a younger trio, Sumlin, 68, performed originals as well as "Killing Floor," "Smoke Stack Lightning" and many other classic Howlin' Wolf-associated tunes that inspired Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and countless others.

His playing may have lacked the nerve-thrilling bite of the famous recordings, but it was still exciting, and he proved nimble and passionate, flourishing more as the 90-minute set progressed.

He sang serviceably, in a guttural voice that fit the material, but that was beside the point. Seeing him so alive and animated was like grabbing a piece of history and getting a sliver of insight into a bygone era.

It was awe-inspiring and sad to realize that, although we'll never know what Hendrix would've sounded like in his old age, a largely unsung giant like Sumlin still walks among us and, more important, can still teach us something about what it means to love music.

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