Hubert Sumlin was born on November 16, 1931, in Greenwood, Mississippi, and raised in Hughes, Arkansas. He was taken by the great blues players he heard—Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and Son House.
When Sumlin was about 10, he snuck into the local juke joint and stood on a pile of Coca Cola crates to see Howlin’ Wolf. Drawn in by the music, he fell through the window and landed right on the stage. The club owner tried to throw out the underage boy, but Wolf insisted that Sumlin stay and sit on the stage while he played. He later took Sumlin home to his mother and asked that he not be punished. Wolf recognized that Hubert was born to play the guitar. His passion started with plucking steel wire against a soda bottle nailed to the side of a barn. He “had to recreate those sounds.”
Years later, Wolf invited Sumlin to join his band, bringing him to Chicago in 1954. It was on Howlin’ Wolf’s early-to mid-‘60s recordings for Chess Records that Sumlin’s guitar playing crossed the line from impressive to legendary, with such tracks as “Built For Comfort,” “Shake For Me,” “300 Pounds of Joy,” “Louise,” “Goin’ Down Slow,” “Killing Floor,” and “Wang Dang Doodle.”
Sumlin’s playing was a vital catalyst for the British blues boom, providing a link from the acoustic blues of the Mississippi Delta that was more accessible to electric guitarists. Many artists, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimmy Page, credit Sumlin as a major inﬂuence. Jimi Hendrix used to say that Hubert Sumlin was his favorite guitar player.