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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Big names give Monroe the blues

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Hubert Sumlin holds a photo of Keith Richards, who is a featured artist on Sumlin s new CD.
Hubert Sumlin holds a photo of Keith Richards, who is a featured artist on Sumlin s new CD.
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Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf are gone, but their electrified blues will still get the mojo working when their former band members Hubert Sumlin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin take the stage tomorrow night in Monroe for the 18th Annual Black History Month Blues Series.

Sumlin, 73, was 11 years old when he first met Howlin' Wolf, falling through the window he had climbed up to hear the blues legend perform at a Mississippi juke joint.

After forming a group with blues harmonica player James Cotton, Sumlin was invited by Wolf to join his band as lead guitarist in 1954. He later became Wolf's musical director, and the two worked together until Wolf's death in 1976.

Sumlin's subtle yet stinging blues guitar style has been credited as a major musical influence by such rock stars as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix.

Page called Sumlin "one important person ... I love Hubert. And what a complement he was to Howlin' Wolf's voice. He always played the right thing at the right time, period."

Richards, Clapton, and the Band's Levon Helm are featured as guest artists on Sumlin's new CD, "About Them Shoes," released Tuesday on Artemis Records.

Smith, 69, was the sturdy rhythmic drive for many of Waters' classic recordings, playing drums with the blues legend for 15 years. A native of Arkansas, Smith has won seven W.C. Handy Awards, toured with Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, and appeared in the Blues Brothers movie alongside John Lee Hooker.

A Blind Pig Records recording artist, Smith plays harmonica and sings in addition to his role as drummer.

The blues concert will be a musical reunion for guitarist Margolin, whose latest release, "The Bob Margolin All Star Blues Jam," featured Sumlin and Smith in addition to such famous players as Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell, and Mookie Brill.

Margolin, 55, played with Waters from 1973 to 1980, including several years when Perkins, now 91, was the band's pianist.

"When I stood onstage between Pine and Mud," Margolin said, "those times are the deepest blues music I will ever experience."

Also performing tomorrow night will be the Monroe County Blues All-Stars, an array of local musicians who have been rehearsing in what some call "a blues fantasy camp."

The 18th Annual Black History Month Blues Series, presented by the Monroe County Library System, begins with the All Star Blues Gala at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Meyer Theater of Monroe County Community College, 1555 South Raisinville Rd. Admission is free and no tickets are required, but seating is limited.

Other events in the series include the Rick Fines Trio, 7 p.m. Thursday, Carleton Branch Library; Bluesapalooza! in the Library with Erwin Helfer and Katherine Davis, 7 p.m. Feb. 8, Ellis Reference and Information Center; Peter "Madcat" Ruth, 7 p.m. Feb. 22, Bedford Branch Library; and "The Big Gig," starring Corey Harris and the 5x5 Band, Chris Smither, Calvin Cooke and the Detroit Sacred Steel Ensemble, and the Rev. Robert B. Jones, 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

All events are free and open to the public. Information: 734-241-5277 or http://monroe.lib.mi.us.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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