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Hubert Sumlin To Receive Sonny Payne Award

Blues guitar great Hubert SumlinBlues guitar great Hubert Sumlin has been named as the recipient of the 2007 Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence presented by the Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Arkansas Department of Heritage.

The Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence, called the “Sonny,” is presented annually during the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in historic downtown Helena-West Helena each October. The award recognizes an individual or individuals who have strongly influenced the Blues music of the Arkansas Delta. The honor is named for Sunshine Sonny Payne, the longtime host of the Peabody Award-winning King Biscuit Time radio program broadcast each week day from the DCC Visitors Center at 141 Cherry Street on radio station KFFA-AM in Helena-West Helena.

Previous recipients of the “Sonny” are Robert Lockwood Jr., Houston Stackhouse (posthumously in the award’s inaugural year of 2002,” Sam Carr, Pinetop Perkins, Cedell Davis, John Weston, James Cotton, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Michael Burks, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Sumlin, named as honoree for the sixth annual presentation, is possibly best known for his amazing, influential guitar work for Howlin’ Wolf on Chess Records, particularly in the mid-1960s, standing out on tracks like “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Killing Floor,” “Shake For Me,” “300 Pounds of Joy,” and “Hidden Charms.” Often, he is cited as a major influence on modern guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Bob Weir, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, and Jimi Hendrix.

The Sonny Award presentation is to be a part of Sumlin?s performance with The Willie “Big Eyes” Smith Band on Saturday evening, October 6, during the final evening of the three-day Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival (formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival).

Born at Greenwood, Mississippi, on November 16, 1931, Hubert Sumlin grew up around the Hughes and West Memphis areas of Arkansas. While still a small boy, Sumlin began playing the tight length of baling wire his brother A.D. had nailed to a wall of the home. Soon, his mother would sacrifice a week’s $5 paycheck to buy eight-year-old Sumlin his first guitar.

According to Blues legend, it was a couple of years later when Sumlin attempted to enter a local juke joint to watch a regional performer he’d been hearing a lot about, Howlin’ Wolf. Quickly thrown out, the boy stacked crates up to a window so he could still watch and listen. When the crates inevitably fell, young Sumlin tumbled through the window and onto the stage where he found himself face to face with The Wolf. The owner attempted to haul the boy out of the club once again, only to be stopped by Wolf, who demanded a chair on the stage for the child. He ordered that Sumlin be given nothing but water and be allowed to watch the Wolf’s show with Pat Hare and Junior Parker. Later on that night, Wolf escorted Sumlin home and asked the boy’s mother not to punish him because he’d only wanted to hear the music. Still a teenager, Sumlin began performing with a similarly young and talented harmonica player named James Cotton. Wolf heard about them in West Memphis and soon brought Sumlin into his band and, in 1954, on to Chicago.

Following Wolf’s death in 1976, Sumlin continued to perform with The Wolf Gang until 1980, when he left to begin a solo career, stepping into the spotlight to feature his own vocal talents as well as his mastery of the guitar. Since, 1987, Sumlin has released solo albums frequently, including the well-received, star-studded About Them Shoes in 2003.

For more information, interested persons can call the Delta Cultural Center at (870)-338-4350 or toll free at (800)-358-0972 or visit the DCC online at www.deltaculturalcenter.com.

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