Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Pinetop Perkins. Hubert Sumlin. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. These three men helped make some of the most influential and recognizable electric blues music in the world, as sidemen for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. But they were the sidemen, and it was The Wolf and Waters who got the glory.
“I was getting the scraps, they were getting the money,” explains Perkins in one of many film interviews,
Yet it should not be thought hat Sidemen: Long Road to Glory is a bitter movie. Not at all! Despite going through some hard times after Wolf and Muddy died, all three men continued their careers into their eighties and nineties and lived to see at least some of the fame they deserved. They died within eight months of each other in 2011, shortly after Perkins and Smith won a Grammy for their album Joined at the Hip. At 97, Perkins was the eldest Grammy winner ever.
Hubert Sumlin played guitar for Howlin’ Wolf (and, for a short time, for Muddy,) while Perkins and Smith played with Muddy Waters, Perkins on piano and Smith on drums (and also driving the bus.) The many anecdotes indicate that while their relationships with the big men were complex, they loved Wolf and Muddy and their lives on the road.
This film treats these three important men first and foremost with respect. It shows how all of them, but especially Sumlin, influenced the young British musicians like The Rolling Stones and Clapton, with great archival footage. Many contemporary musicians, poignantly including the now-deceased Johhny Winter and Greg Allman, offer homage, Others who speak on film are Joe Bonamassa, Shemekia Copeland, Warren Haynes, Robby Krieger, Joe Perry, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. All attest to the real significance of these sidemen to the development of blues and rock and roll.
The film points out the great shame that none of these three men are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A touching moment in the film shows Sumlin talking about how he wanted to be there, up on the wall with The Wolf. He hoped to live to see it, but that didn’t. and still hasn’t, happened.
Nevertheless, this is a story of men who did what they wanted to do and did it so well that hey changed music for good. They deserve to be remembered with love and respect, and this film helps make that happen. You will come out o it with a strong compulsion to listen to their music again, which is exactly what a film documentary should do.
Production companies: Red Hawk Films, Red Thread Productions
Director: Scott D. Rosenbaum
Screenwriters: Jasin Cadic, Scott D. Rosenbaum
Producers: Jasin Cadic, Tony Grazia, Emmett James, Scott D. Rosenbaum, Joseph White
Executive producers: Fabrizio Grossi, Alan Rudolph, Pat Scalabrino
Directors of photography: Robby Baumgartner, Daniel Marracino, Brian McAward, Declan Quinn, Joseph Quirk, Greg Wilson
Editor: Bo Mehrad