Guitarist Hubert Sumlin is one of the blues most acclaimed, yet maddening, geniuses. His classic work with Howlin’ Wolf helped define postwar Chicago blues in the 50s and 60s. As Wolf moaned, bellowed, and rasped out lyrics of menace and foreboding, Sumlin spat out splintered shards of disjointed elegance, creating the landscape of nightmare and displacement where Wolf’s characters–the Back Door Man, the Tail Dragger–stalked the streets, wreaking havoc on order and serenity. Those images of surrealism and chaos also reflect Sumlin’s personality: a typical Sumlin show will veer chaotically from inspiration to dissolution as he erupts into unpredictable harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic explosions that may or may not have much to do with whatever his band is playing at the time. Then, when all seems lost, he and his sidemen will find a common groove and suddenly the full power of his musical vision will come to light–glorious and ascendant, sometimes approaching the wall-of-sound transcendence achieved by Coltrane or Albert Ayler. Saturday, Buddy Guys’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.