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Blues Legend Hubert Sumlin, Guitarist for Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, Dies at 80

Legendary blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin died of heart failure at a hospital in Wayne, New Jersey, last night, December 4. He was 80.

As Howlin' Wolf's guitarist in the 1950s, Sumlin influenced several generations of blues and rock guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Page. What made Sumlin's resume even more impressive was that he also was Muddy Waters' guitarist for a brief period in the mid-'50s before rejoining Wolf's band.


Sumlin was born November 16, 1931, in Greenwood, Mississippi, and was raised near West Memphis, Arkansas. The young guitarist briefly performed with harpist James Cotton before getting the call from Wolf to join him in Chicago in 1954. By the dawn of the 1960s, Sumlin's exciting and unique lead lines and phrasing were a major part of Wolf's sound, as can be heard on "Wang Dang Doodle," "Shake for Me," "Killing Floor," "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy" and "Hidden Charms," often considered to feature his finest fretwork. Outside of a brief spell in Waters' band in 1956, Sumlin stayed with Wolf until Wolf's death in 1976.


Sumlin continued performing with other members of Wolf's band under the moniker The Wolf Pack until the early '80s. Since then, Sumlin had emerged as a solo artist, moving to the front of the stage as the lead vocalist/guitarist in his own band. As the decades passed, Sumlin also -- happily and deservedly -- filled the role of living blues legend alongside B.B. King, Buddy Guy and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who died earlier this year.

Sumlin's high-profile 2004 solo album, About Them Shoes, featured guest appearances by Cotton, Clapton, Keith Richards, Bob Margolin, Levon Helm and David Johansen.

Sumlin came in at No. 43 on Rolling Stone magazine's recent list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, right above Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.