Music documentaries are among my favorite films to watch. Although I’m not a musician myself, music is and always has been my greatest muse, inspiration, therapy and brings me deep soul-feeling satisfaction. Science has proven that music has the ability to affect us on a cellular level, affecting our brainwaves and moods.
It’s important to recognize that most modern rock and classic music has its roots in the blues. Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, a feature documentary by Scott D. Rosenbaum, is the story of three very influential blues greats, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – without whom we wouldn’t have music as we know it today.
Who Were The “Sidemen”?
Hubert Sumlin was the guitarist, Pinetop Perkins the pianist and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith played drums with the well known blues musicians Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. These three “sidemen” – as they were referred to – were often overlooked, under appreciated and spent over five decades (half a century!) playing the blues before they got to the glory of a Grammy nomination and win.
Their stories are raw, real and heavy at heart. This film is a great tribute to their life’s work and accomplishments. This film fits nicely in place as an important rock’n’roll history lesson.
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory touches upon these men’s personal biographies starting with their births on plantations and goes onto discuss their childhoods through what led to their discovery of the blues. At 97 years old, Perkins recalls his younger years working hard all day for fifty cents. It’s a clear snap shot of a time in America’s not too distant (and shameful) past where segregation and lynching were still going on – giving these men the real blues, facing the reality of what life was like living as a black man in America at the time.
Fellow blues musician Guy Davis remarks that “Blues is the music of survivors” and goes on to talk about those who didn’t get lynched or die: they got to sing the blues and tell their stories through song, singing their woes in a way that was satisfying to the soul.
A Stone’s Throw From Fame
Notable names who are music legends by most people’s standards like Joe Perry of Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers Band, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Johnny Winter all make appearances in this film giving their praises of appreciation to the sidemen, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and the blues – talking about how it’s shaped their own musical influences, their careers and rock ‘n roll in general.
Other notable names talked about in the film who helped the songs of these bluesmen included Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger – all of whom were instrumental in getting the blues heard, appreciated and enjoyed by audiences around the world. The Rolling Stones went on live TV and played a cover of “Little Red Rooster” by Howlin’ Wolf which helped the song and blues artist gain momentum. While Clapton told the executives at Chess Records that Hubert Sumlin was part of the package and if they had a problem with it, Clapton was out. While Hendrix played their music on stage as well as joined them on stage in a surprise performance where he infamously played with his teeth.
Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith were finally recognized for the talented men that they were by way of Emmy nomination – and win in 2011. Their legacy was complete. They lived to change the face of music forever and lived through an important time in America’s history. They lived through experiences that literally gave them the blues but they survived and sang about it. Pinetop Perkins went on to be the oldest Grammy winner of all time and after the win, went home and quietly passed away in his sleep. Within eight months of his passing his buddies joined him, forever sealing their accomplishments with one well deserved, long overdue and big final win.
The film is well-rounded, with a captivating story which is accompanied by sharp picture and the authentic sound of good ol’ blues jams throughout the film. I love documentaries that make me feel something. This one accomplished that. Towards the end, when they accepted their awards and the few minutes of the story that followed – I felt my own heart swell so full of emotion for them, for their win, for all that they’ve had to endure through their lifetime – to finally have it all pay off in a way they never imagined it could or would. My eyes leaked with tears of joy. This moment was one of the most touching in the film.
The end credits include Gregg Allman and Johnny Winter’s names along with the sidemen in the “In Memory Of” shout out, who’ve all since passed since their interviews were filmed for the documentary.
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory – Conclusion
These three men gave us rock n roll and what a great gift it was to bestow upon the world. I recommend this documentary for all to see. Not only is it a great history lesson in music, it’s a great history lesson about America as well.
When there’s nothing good going on in the news, grab a guitar and start playin’ the blues. The legacy of Pinetop Perkins lives on through the Pinetop Perkins Foundation which keeps blues alive through teaching it to the new generations.
What are the best music documentaries?
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory was released in the US on August 18th 2017. Future release dates will be added here upon announcement.
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