Sean Chambers’ brilliant homage to blues great Hubert Sumlin

Sean Chambers played with Hubert Sumlin for more than four years.
Photo by Alain Broeckx

Sean Chambers’ thirst for these blues is quite apparent by looking at the photos of him inside the impressive tri-fold package housing “That’s What I’m Talking About: Tribute to Hubert Sumlin.”

In one, Chambers stares in awe at Hubert Sumlin as the legendary, nattily dressed Chicago blues guitarist does his considerable thing. The other features Chambers now, some 20 years later, leaning into that image of his past, lost in the emotion. But it’s the music contained herein that’s most telling.  

Recorded in 2020 just prior to things changing a bit, Sean Chambers’ ninth studio album features a set of rousing, hard-edged blues of the kind that he and his band used to play backing Mr. Sumlin. Chambers says of the time: “The band and I woodshedded the songs for a month or so and went to play with Hubert for the first time in October of 1998. It was a magical night for me, and the chemistry between us and Hubert worked really well. After that show, Hubert asked if we would become his full-time group. My band and I continued to play and tour with Hubert for over four years.”

Hubert Sumlin passed away 10 years ago, but his renown never should. The Mississippi native was Howlin’ Wolf’s lead guitarist from the 1950s heyday of Chicago blues until the end of Wolf’s career for good reason — his piercing notes and perfect timing flitted within the blues giant’s songs like a graceful bird on a high-tension wire.    

Florida-born and Stevie Ray-bred (he began his career leading a Vaughan cover band in the early 1990s), Chambers hit his stride during those years with Sumlin.

“Hubert’s Song” highlights his appreciation. Chambers sings with joy in his tough as nails tribute, “You taught me how to play the blues, and we sure had fun.” Otherwise, the album is comprised of 10 additional blues classics and lesser-known songs that Chambers played night after night with Sumlin.    

The band features Bruce Katz (Ronnie Earl, Gregg Allman) and John Ginty of the Allman Betts Band. Both offer rich, vintage-sounding piano and B3 in their respective tracks. Drummer Andrei Koribanics and bassist Antar Goodwin hammer out, and/or caress the beats.

“Chunky,” a Sumlin instrumental, affords the band the chance to loosen up, and the listener the opportunity to become acquainted, and hooked. “Willie Dixon’s “Do the Do” rumbles along; the groove, and Chambers’ explosions of slide as catchy as flypaper. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Rockin’ Daddy” does just that. Chambers sings the songs in a powerful voice replete with the shards-of-glass effect the Wolf bestowed on them, albeit in a somewhat fuller, honeyed tone.

His guitar playing still contains hints of Vaughan’s style, but his torrents of loose, needle sharp, or moody blue notes are certainly most influenced by Sumlin and others of his ilk. He’s highly entertaining because he’s come into his own while remaining reverent to his heroes. Rory Gallagher and Sean Costello both come to mind for the same reason. One listen to the absolutely blistering take here on St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s classic “Goin’ Down Slow” proves the point.

Rolling Stone placed Hubert Sumlin in the top half of its first list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Calling attention to the man like this is long overdue. Sean Chambers manages to do so while also calling attention to himself by virtue of these excellent performances.

-Tom Clarke

  • Sean Chambers
  • ‘That’s What I’m Talkin’ About: Tribute to Hubert Sumlin’
  • Label: Quarto Valley Records
  • Release: July 9, 2021

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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