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Legends of the guitar.

Byline: By Alan Nichol

Two guitarists who played pivotal roles in the development of popular music arrive on Tyneside this week.

Although quite different in style and background the pair have had a massive influence in their respective fields, and both continue to attract the attention of a new generation of players and fans alike.

On Tuesday Mississippi-born Hubert Sumlin, for 25 years the lead-guitarist, pupil and friend of the blues icon, Chester Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf, stops-off at the Newcastle Opera House with Elliott Sharp's Terraplane Plus. Sumlin was responsible for numerous seminal recordings with Wolf in the 50s & 60s - for Chicago-based Chess Records - when, as a 23-year-old youngster, he rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest names in blues history. After one heated spat with the Wolf he was coaxed into joining the less intimidating atmosphere of Muddy Waters' band but he soon returned to his mentor's side. Sumlin's telling guitar offered a nimble and eloquent contrast to the booming, primeval growl of the giant Wolf and songs like Smokestack Lightning (1956) and then Down In The Bottom, Going Down Slow and The Red Rooster, all contained on the classic 1962 Rocking Chair album, were defining moments. The said album remains, in my opinion, a benchmark in urban post-war blues.

Prior to joining Howlin' Wolf, Sumlin worked for several years with harmonica player, James Cotton (who would later join Muddy Waters), however, he is likely to remain forever linked to Mr Howlin' in the eyes of blues fans and historians. Some great blues guitarists - Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan - have publicly stated their debt to Sumlin and the former named him as his favourite player! Praise indeed! Next Tuesday the New York avant-blues outfit, Terraplane Plus, led by guitarist Elliott Sharp and including Eric Mingus (son of bassist, Charles) on vocals, will provide a contrasting, jazz-influenced vehicle for the talents of the septuagenarian Sumlin. Ticket information, as usual, from the Opera House box-office on 0191 232 0899.

TOMORROW night, former Pentangle members, John Renbourn (guitar & vocals) & Jacqui McShee (vocals), appear at the Buddle Arts Centre, Wallsend. The innovative Pentangle blended jazz, blues and folk elements to produce a singular sound in the late 1960s and 70s. A key feature of the line-up was the dexterity and invention of Renbourn and his fellow acoustic guitarist, Bert Jansch and the distinctive voice of McShee.

Renbourn, possessor of the lightest of touches, was born in London at the end of the Second World War and later attended, fairly regularly as he once put it, Kingston College of Art at the same time as Sandy Denny, and Eric Clapton and other members of the Yardbirds. His work, with that of Jansch, Davey Graham and Wizz Jones established a significant British movement which challenged the previously unassailable position of US based pickers. He did work with Americans like Stefan Grossman and the late Isaac Guillory (who became a popular Tyneside resident) and toured the world with Pentangle (with the likes of the Grateful Dead in the US) and as a soloist. His influence has been felt, on both sides of the Atlantic, by a welter of younger guitarists who acknowledge his ground-breaking trail through folk and blues territory. Among this band of relative newcomers are Americans Kelly Joe Phelps and Brooks Williams, both recent visitors to Tyneside.

Renbourn and McShee have other ongoing individual projects but make time to work together every now and then. Tickets are pounds 7/pounds 8 from the box-office on 0191 200 7132.

THERE is more quality modern jazz at Heaton's Corner House next Wednesday (12th) when Jazz North East have the Anglo-Finnish combo, The Damon Brown Quintet featuring Alan Barnes. The unit also includes Alec Dankworth (son of Johnny ) on bass. Tickets are pounds 8 (pounds 6 concs) from the venue (0191 265 96020 or from J.G.Windows in Newcastle.

AN ATTRACTIVE double-bill is on offer at the Cluny this Sunday when former Ryan Adams side-kick and ex-Whiskeytown singer, Caitlin Cary, demonstrates her folk-country amalgam. She has one-time Norwegian postman, St Thomas, in support for a gig which is part of the impressive Union Country Festival. Further proof of the calibre of artists on offer is provided next Friday (14th) when the Cluny has the young, turbo-charged, Texas trio, Hot Club of Cowtown. This exquisitely talented threesome provide absolutely top-notch musicianship with their own brand of Django-style western swing. The band are Elana Fremerman (fiddle/vocals), Whit Smith (guitar/vocals) and Jake Erwin (upright bass) and the sounds they produce are stunning. Old standards like Pennies From Heaven and After You've Gone are vigorously revived and the old iron-horse, Orange Blossom Special, rattles along at warp speed. The band's latest (live) CD, Continental Stomp (Hightone Records HCD8163), exhibits all the vitality, humour and class pundits have raved about. Support from the country-inflected sounds of Cornflake. Ticket info from the Jumpin' Hot Club ticket-line on 0191 232 1232 (Live Theatre).
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2003
Words:823
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