Revered blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who spent 23-plus years adding gritty leads to Howlin' Wolf's legendary voice and who inspired generations of axemen from Jimi Hendrix to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, died Sunday at a New Jersey hospital of heart failure. He was 80.
A member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Sumlin's guitar work in Wolf's catalogue of big-voiced songs include "Killing Floor," "Smokestack Lighting" and "Back Door Man," to name just a few. Rolling Stone magazine recently tapped Sumlin as the 43rd greatest guitarist of all time. He ranked right above Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.
Sumlin was a key part of Wolf's band from 1953 up until the singer's 1976 death. They began working for Sun Records in Memphis but later moved to Chess Records as part of the Blues migration to Chicago. He has been nominated multiple times for Grammy Awards but has never won.
Born in Greenwood, Miss., Sumlin had spent time in Chicago, Milwaukee and in later years, New Jersey. Several years ago he had to have a cancerous lung removed, but he continued to play live with an oxygen tank by his side.