The legendary Hubert Sumlin donned a Custom Shop Strat for an all-star jam of
“Killing Floor,” in addition to helping close the show with a spectacular rendition of “Red
House” with Joe Satriani and Robert Randolph. Sumlin’s Fender Custom Shop ’56 Relic Stratocaster was given to him by Mike
Eldred at the 2007 Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival.
It’s difficult to sum up a player like Hubert
Sumlin. Rock ’n’ roll as we know it would
most certainly sound very different if he
hadn’t picked up the guitar back in the ’30s.
And not just because Jimi was a huge fan.
Meeting him was fascinating. He was raised in a
little town called Hughes in eastern Arkansas—
an area that spawned a major music revolution,
one that is not simply confined to just the great
blues that came from there. As Part of Howlin’
Wolf’s band this man helped change people’s
perception of what music could sound like,
and we could definitely feel the energy in the
room when we were speaking to him. Sumlin is
a walking tome of amazing musical history and
knowledge, and we just sat back in awe as he
recalled fond memories of Hendrix and his very
own modest childhood.
“Jimi loved [the famous Howlin’ Wolf tune]
‘Killing Floor,’ and he liked the Wolf,” Sumlin
calmly said. He seemed to replay some
memory in his mind’s eye for a moment, and
then he emphasized the point, “He recorded
Killing Floor!” He seemed truly honored that
Hendrix had covered the tune—including
during a BBC session and at the Monterey
Pop Festival in 1967.
Sumlin then recalled the first time he played
with Hendrix, during a gig with Howlin’ Wolf
in England. “It was at this really nice, big
place. He came up through the front, and the
crowd just moved for him.” Sumlin’s hands
were pressed together, and he spread them
wide to illustrate how the crowd parted
like the Red Sea when Hendrix walked to
the stage. “You could drive a car through it
down to the bandstand!” he laughed. The
crowd gave the legend a deafening round
of applause before he’d played a note.
Sumlin watched Jimi go on to play “Killing
Floor” with his teeth, and only one thing
was running through his mind: “I’m fired. He
played it so beautiful, man. I think he played
it better than we recorded it.” Hendrix got a
15-minute standing ovation after his set.
Being in the presence of a figure as influential
was humbling. It was like listening to a
living, breathing part of America’s musical
heritage. He shared stories about playing a
guitar strung with baling wire and making
his brother cry with jealousy because he was
so good. He retold road tales and stories of
recording with Chuck Berry and the Wolf. But
what was most fascinating was his energy.
The man is 78 years old and has the drive
and passion of a rambunctious teenager. He
still lives and breathes guitar like it was the
first time he played it. He’s inspiring on and
off the stage. And getting to share a few
moments of his time to talk about the blues,
Arkansas, and Hendrix are moments we’ll
cherish for the rest of our lives.
Sumlin’s amplifier setup was one of extreme simplicity: a tried-and-true Fender
Bassman 4x10 combo mic’d with a Sennheiser e609.