BLOGGING AND VLOGGING FROM CANADA'S BEST KNOWN UNDISCOVERED OLD WHITE BLUESMAN

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Memories of Hubert


Hubert Sumlin passed away this morning. 
I've been reading Holger Petersen's new book and I'm going to flip ahead in the hopes that one of those interviews is with Hubert. 
Back in 2007 I was the special guest at a blues matinee in Brantford and after the first set I was caught up in conversation with some of the locals and finally noticed that Bruce Hall was trying to get my attention and when he did he brought me over to a table at the back and introduced me to Hubert Sumlin. Whoa, my jaw hit the floor!  Bruce had just picked him up at the airport - Hubert was in town to play a big Howlin' Wolf tribute concert the next night. He had asked Bruce if there was any music happening and Bruce brought him over to the blues matinee.  Well after a few pleasantries I said "I"ve got a Stratocaster up there on stage if you would like to sit in for a couple of tunes."  He politely declined but as we were on stage about to start the second set, a young woman ran up to the stage yelling "Hubert says he'll play - he's going to play for me!" He shuffled up to the stage and I handed him my Strat and invited him to sit on the stool I had up there but he said he'd rather stand so then I asked what tune he'd like to do but he said "You just play your tunes and I'll play along."  Then I'm trying to remember a Howlin Wolf tune but I don't know a single one (I do now...a single one). We played "Live the Life" or something like that but Hubert was playing so low you could hardly hear him and his solo was a little tentative. 
I tried to turn him up a bit but he was still not very loud and now after reading a story about him in Keith Richards' biography where everybody was trying to get Hubert to turn up but he liked to be low. Richards remarked that after listening to the tracks that Hubert's part fit perfectly and what he was playing cut through and made sense. Maybe not so much in our little jam. 
I went to the big concert the next night and later when I mentioned it to Rod Phillips (who was playing organ with us at the matinee) Rod said "well I hope he played netter than he did with us."  Yikes! Rod could be a little tough on other musicians, even living legends. Anyway, at the matinee Hubert left the stage after a couple of tunes but he for the whole set and then stayed for the third set as well. He was diggin it. And before he left, he shook my hand and said, and I remember his words exactly, "I got ears. I listen. You got something, Brian. Something good. I'm going to remember you."  I said "I'm putting that on my website, Hubert" and I did. 
I found out later the tru significance of that comments because Hubert did indeed have a remarkable memory - he was one of those people who remember everybody's birthday and send a card or call. At the concert the next night he had me sit with him and then I had the honour of carrying his guitar and putting it back in its case for him (it tight squeeze, as I recall). Anybody who knew him will tell you, regardless of his position in the pantheon of blues guitar giants, what they remember most is that he was a beautiful human being.