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Hubert Sumlin and the Butanes|
Famous Dave’s, Minneapolis, MN
September 23, 2007
by Rich Benson
Minneapolis West Bank music legend and MN Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Willie Murphy opened up the show with his distinctive vocals and piano playing in a solo set. Willie traveled through many different styles on piano from boogie woogie, to stride, to rock, to R&B to blues. His versions of classics like “Stand by Me” and “People Get Ready” had the early crowd responding with enthusiasm. Willie, an old friend and collaborator of Hubert’s, stayed on stage to add his distinctive piano and occasional vocals to the show.
After a few warm up songs led by Curt Obeda, guitarist and vocalist for The Butanes, blues guitar legend Hubert hit the stage making his Fender guitar speak soft and subtle and bringing it up to hit penetrating, stinging guitar licks. He remains one of a very few guitar players where after just a few bars you can immediately pick out who is playing. Early on you could tell Hubert was feeling good and itching to play. Singing and playing with enthusiasm, Hubert served up powerful renditions of “Feed Me Baby” and “Sitting on Top of the World.” Tonight was a night when the years seemed to peel away and he took the crowd back 12 to 15 years to the great shows Hubert and The Butanes used to deliver at the old Blues Saloon in St Paul. Hubert had it all working, using quick hand slides, playing tasteful riffs punctuated by quick-hitting, strident notes on the back-beat, to playing head to head with Curt Obeda, laughing with the joy he felt. When Hubert said, “I’m having fun,” he obviously was.
Hubert mixed tempos nicely, from the grinding blues of “Red Rooster” to the up-tempo, swinging rock and roll anthem, “Rocket 88.” Here Curt provided the gritty, passionate vocals and a little history, mentioning how James Cotton knew Hubert as a “bad teenager.” Curt alluded to Hubert’s recent surgery, calling him “The Pace Maker with the pacemaker.” In the second set Hubert gave the happy crowd more guitar fire with his stinging guitar licks and expressive hand slides on the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Killing Floor.” Midway through the first set Hubert had a chair brought out so he could sit down, but he spent little time there. He’d sit down and play for a few minutes, then he jump up and move. Hubert paced back and forth across the stage, smiling, playing, messing with Curt, and having more fun than anyone else in the room.
Willie’s great piano and the rock-solid rhythm section of Jon Lindberg on bass and Jeremy Johnson on drums added to a great night of blues. Jeremy was filling in for Robb Stupka who was touring in Europe with Darrell Neulich. Hubert always calls The Butanes his favorite backing band and the rapport they have on stage and the great blues they play together puts an exclamation point on that. After a passionate and powerful version of “I Did What I Could” Hubert came back with a second playing of “Sitting on Top of the World.” This song wraps up what Hubert is all about: no matter what happens in life, he has a joy for life, for the blues, and for his friends and fans that few people can match. And nothing can keep him down. Hubert closed out the night with a long, rocking blues jam where everyone on stage got to show their stuff. With Hubert’s sharp guitar, strong vocals, and boundless enthusiasm, as well as the talented playing of Willie and The Butanes people in the crowd had every reason to believe they had watched the best blues performance in the world this night at Famous Dave’s.
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