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Hubert Sumlin & The Nighthawks
Fairfield, CT - December 17 2010
Review by Kirk Lang

© Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.Good things are worth waiting for. Such was the case on Dec. 17 at the Fairfield Theatre Company in downtown Fairfield as The Nighthawks performed for nearly an hour before blues legend Hubert Sumlin took to the stage with the Washington, D.C.-based band.

Now The Nighthawks are quality musicians in their own right, but it was Sumlin - the longtime guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf - who everyone came to see. The Nighthawks’ 13 songs without Sumlin was sort of a tease, a buildup to the reveal of a blues great whose licks on those old Howlin’ Wolf songs had an impact on, among others, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. In fact, no less a guitar god than Hendrix once said Sumlin was his favorite guitarist.

The 79-year-old Sumlin, who now gets around with an oxygen tank after having undergone lung removal surgery in 2004, had some assistance as he walked to his chair at stage left, but once he settled down and put his guitar over his neck, it was like he was a young man again. He has fingers that are meant to play the guitar and they move effortlessly around the fretboard. Also, there is an expressiveness to Sumlin’s playing that is often lacking in other guitarists’ work, perhaps because Sumlin listened when Howlin’ Wolf recommended ditching the guitar picks to play flesh against steel instead.

© Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.Shortly after Sumlin and The Nighthawks performed “Spoonful,” a classic Howlin’ Wolf tune that was covered by Cream, Eric Clapton’s former group, Humlin addressed the crowd.

“You see this?” he said, as he pointed to the tubes attached to his nose. “I’m not going to let this stop me from doing what I gotta do.”

Sumlin and the band then went into “Sitting On Top of the World,” another song by Sumlin’s former boss. Sumlin handled the vocals on this one. Although Sumlin’s voice is nowhere near as rough and gravelly as Howlin’ Wolf, it was nice to hear him belt out a tune, especially since his manager is very protective, and understandably so, of how much he talks and sings.

Sumlin and The Nighthawks don’t limit their set list to Howlin’ Wolf tunes. They did a Jimmy Reed song, B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault” and would close the show with Muddy Waters’ “I’m Ready.”  There was one point in the concert where Sumlin got off of his seat, stood up and pointed at Nighthawks’ guitarist Paul Bell to give credit to a fellow axe man sounding pretty darn sweet. Encouraged, Bell kept dishing out some nice licks and prompted another point in his direction from Sumlin. When Hubert Sumlin, at 79 years old, stands up, turns and points at you, not once but twice, that is the ultimate compliment. No words are needed.

© Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.Sumlin, rated #65 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” - represented a dapper figure on stage. His shiny black shoes, black suit and black snap-brim fedora stood out among the more casual attire of The Nighthawks band members. But that’s just the era Sumlin comes from, the era when people dressed up when they had a gig.

Sumlin and The Nighthawks also treated the crowd to “Howlin’ for My Darlin’” and “Feed Me,” two more songs recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. There were some classics that the audience never got to hear, such as “Smokestack Lightnin,’” “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Back Door Man,” but that will happen when Sumlin is only on stage for a limited time. The Nighthawks performed for 50 minutes before Sumlin ever came out. Meanwhile, Sumlin’s total time on stage clocked in at 40 minutes. Do the math and it was a relatively short gig for the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame inductee. However, the 200 or so in attendance didn’t seem to mind. They know Sumlin could easily be at home enjoying retirement, but instead he’s still touring, still playing, despite his physical condition. If he can’t be on stage as long as he used to, so be it. Hubert Sumlin for 40 minutes is better than no Hubert Sumlin at all.

© Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.

Website © Copyright 2000-2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Text (this page) © Copyright 2011 Kirk Lang. All Rights Reserved.
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