Sidemen: Long Road to Glory is a documentary film that provides an intimate look into the incredible lives of three of the last Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen, piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin. These legendary bluesmen who performed and recorded into their 80’s and 90’s, played a significant role in shaping modern popular music. The film features some of the last interviews conducted with all three men as well as their final live performances together. These memorable live performances, vividly capture these blues legends with the blues and rock stars they have inspired including, Robby Krieger of The Doors, Elvin Bishop (recent rock ‘n’ Roll Hall inductee with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), and Tim Reynolds of The Dave Matthews Band. Personal insights from artists such as, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Derek Trucks, Shemekia Copeland, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa and Johnny Winter offer heartfelt accounts of how these three legendary sidemen helped shape their careers as well as rock ‘n’ roll.
Sidemen takes us on the road with Pinetop, Willie and Hubert, three of our last direct links to the origins of the blues, as they share the incredible stories about each of their personal histories. From their upbringings on Delta plantations of the Jim Crow south to lives spent on the road in the shadow of two of the biggest figures in music history, their stories are not only a part of music history, but American history as well. As we ride along, we can’t help but fall in love with these three endearing men as we experience all the trials and triumphs of these remarkable lives.
In the summer of 2008, a group of legendary bluesmen, some of the last surviving members of the Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters bands, were brought together by director Scott Rosenbaum for a cameo appearance in his feature film, The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Hubert Sumlin were cast for their authenticity and ability to underscore the film’s critical subplot, the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll through the blues. During breaks in production, these bluesmen thrilled Rosenbaum with their tales of a lifetime spent on the road. Firsthand accounts of experiences with the mythical Robert Johnson, the larger-than-life Howlin’ Wolf, the seminal Muddy Waters and disciples such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones got the director’s creative wheels spinning. Between takes, Sumlin called Rosenbaum over to the bandstand and prophetically told him of his feeling that they would be working together again. In an instant, an idea that had been germinating with the director for years took root.
When the bluesmen’s booking agent, Hugh Southard approached Rosenbaum, asking him to lend the film’s name to help galvanize a world tour featuring these legendary musicians, a concept had fully blossomed. Having grown up on Martin Scorsese’s valediction to The Band, The Last Waltz, Rosenbaum wanted to make a film that similarly honored the life and musical legacy of these aging bluesmen. When Pinetop, Hubert and Willie “Big Eyes,” along with Sugar Blue, Robert Stroger and Bob Margolin hit the road as The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues Band, Rosenbaum, along with producers Jasin Cadic, Tony Grazia and Joe White were determined to capture this important moment and fleeting history. Over the next three years they would follow these blues legends, shooting live performances, an historic Grammy win, dozens of intimate interviews, countless behind-the-scenes moments, and documenting their lives on the road. Sadly, the 2011 deaths of Willie, Pine and Hubert altered the film’s initial Last Waltz style vision; to capture these legends performing live versions of classic blues songs with the musicians they had so heavily influenced. Luckily, several of these performance pairings were filmed before their deaths. Those treasured moments are complimented by over two dozen subsequent interviews with some of blues and rock’s biggest names, demonstrating the true impact and tremendous respect that these men engendered over the course of their long careers.
Members of The Doors, The Allman Brothers, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Aerosmith, The Dave Matthews Band, as well as artists like Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, Bobby Rush and Shemekia Copeland share their personal and professional recollections of these men and the impact that they’ve had on their own careers. When asked how they hoped to be remembered, Willie, Pine and Hubert consistently expressed their wish to be known for both having kept the blues alive and to serve as an inspiration for the younger generations of musicians. Interviews with blues acolytes Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Warren Haynes, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Derek Trucks affirm that their legacies are alive and well. Several of these musicians have even contributed searing on-camera solo performances in tribute to these late blues legends. Haunting imagery of the Mississippi Delta region, the birthplace of the blues and these legendary bluesmen, punctuates this powerful piece of history. This film succeeds in capturing the personal triumphs, tragedies and tremendous perseverance of three of the last original Delta and Chicago bluesmen while preserving a critical legacy that is nothing short of our last links to the origins of all popular music.
The film will be appearing at Notodden Blues Festival in August which is significant because The Supersonic Blues Machine will be headlining the fest. Members of the band did the score and wrote the film’s title track, “Long Road To Glory,” which they will play live for the first time at this festival.
“My hope is that the film we created is worthy of these incredible musicians, the band leaders they played with, and the great legacies they left behind.” – Scott Rosenbaum