Sumlin (born November 16, 1931) is an American blues guitarist and
singer, best known for his celebrated work, from 1955, as guitarist in
Howlin' Wolf's band. His singular playing is characterized by "wrenched,
shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring
rhythmic suspensions". Listed in Rolling Stone's The 100 Greatest
Guitarists of All Time. Sumlin continues to tour and play blues guitar.
He is cited as a major influence by many artists, including
Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan.,
Jimmy Page, and
Career Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Sumlin was raised in Hughes,
Arkansas. When he was eight years old, he got his first guitar. As a
boy, Sumlin first met Howlin' Wolf (Chester Burnett) by sneaking into a
performance. When Burnett relocated from Memphis to Chicago in 1953, his
long-time guitarist Willie Johnson chose not to join him. Upon his
arrival in Chicago, Wolf first hired Chicago guitarist Jody Williams,
and in 1954 Wolf invited Sumlin to relocate to Chicago to play second
guitar in his Chicago-based band. Williams left the band in 1955,
leaving Sumlin as the primary guitarist in Wolf's band, a position he
held almost continuously (except for a brief spell playing with Muddy
Waters c. 1956) for the remainder of Wolf's career. Upon Wolf's death in
1976, Sumlin continued on with several other members of the late
Burnett's band under the name "The Wolf Pack" until c. 1980. Sumlin has
also recorded under his own name, beginning with a session recorded
while touring Europe with Burnett in 1964. His latest effort is About
Them Shoes, released in 2005 by Tone Cool Records. He underwent lung
removal surgery in 2004 but is still going strong as of 2008.
According to an interview cited in Segrest, James and Mark Hoffman. "Moanin'
at Midnight,The Life and Times of Howling' Wolf", Howlin Wolf sent
Sumlin to a classical guitar instructor at the Chicago Conservatory.
Influence It is often stated that 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
such as Eric Clapton,
Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and
Jeff Beck. Indeed, throughout the careers
of these artists, many Howlin' Wolf songs have been covered and Sumlin's
guitar lines imitated. Examples are Clapton's covers of "Goin' Down
Slow", The Rolling Stones' version of "Little Red Rooster", The
Yardbirds' version of "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "The Lemon Song" by
Zeppelin (which is a rework of "Killing Floor"