Sideman (n) — a supporting musician in a band or group
Sometime earlier this year I saw a Facebook post from my friend Ross Woods that really grabbed my attention.
It was an advertisement for a new film, Sidemen – Long Road to Glory.
I did a little research and found that ‘Sidemen’ was a film about 3 bluesmen who played ‘in the shadows’ of the big name band leaders Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
I was intrigued.
Who were these men?
Pinetop Perkins – Piano
I taught myself off records, Memphis Slim, them old piano players, then added to it. Yeah, hard and loud, beat it to pieces.
Willie ‘Big Eyes’Smith – Drum and Harmonica
Live it, learn it and breathe it.
Hubert Sumlin – Guitar
When I’m reaching an audience, I feel it.
the road to Sidemen
Thankfully there was a Facebook page for the film, so I scoured it to find out more. I was hoping to learn whether the film was travelling to the UK. I didn’t find the answer I was hoping for, so I sent a message through with my question.
The answer surprised me.
The film WOULD be screened at one place in the UK in 2016 – at Glastonbury Festival!
I was even more surprised because I already had a ticket!
How lucky was that?
My friend Ronan, another blues dancer from London was also going to be at Glastonbury so we planned to see the film together.
Glastonbury was muddy. SO MUDDY! Even Muddy Waters would have been shocked by the mud, I reckon.
‘Sidemen – The Road to Glory’ really is glorious.
The archive footage, interviews plus tributes and commentary made it a joy to watch.
Scott (the director, photo right) came around to meet the audience before it started so we had a chance to introduce ourselves. It was so good to meet him in person.
We planned to meet for an interview while we were at Glastonbury but between my shifts in the Travelling Homeopaths Tent and the constraints of the M-U-D we simply couldn’t.
Interview with Scott Rosenbaum from Redhawk Films
Scott, what inspired you to make the Sidemen film?
As a kid I saw Muddy Waters and Bob Margolin’s performance of Mannish Boy in The Last Waltz. I’ve loved the blues ever since; becoming keenly aware of how much it influenced the rock ‘n’ roll bands I also loved listening to.
In our first film, ‘The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Jasin Cadic and I wrote a scene at a juke-joint. I thought it would be great if the band on stage included musicians that played with Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. We were able to cameo Hubert Sumlin, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and Pinetop Perkins.
(Watch the Juke Joint scene from 54:30)
We knew full well that most of the film’s audience would have no idea who they were.
But it didn’t matter; it was our way of showing these men the respect we had for them and the legacies they represented.
After we finished ‘Perfect Age’, the booking agent for the guys asked us if they could go on the road using the name, “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues Band”?
Of course, I said yes.
Inspiration for the film
It was then that the idea I had been thinking about for years all-of-a-sudden became possible; I wanted to capture a ‘Last Waltz’* style tribute concert except the core band was going to be Hubert, Pine, Willie, Bob Margolin, Sugar Blue and Bob Stroger.
* The last concert played by The Band, with a star-studded line up of folk/blues/rock musicians from the 1970s, and filmed by Martin Scorcese.
The idea was to get as many rock and blues stars out to perform all the Muddy, Wolf, Dixon songs that have essentially become the great songbook for rock ‘n’ roll.
In the end, we achieved some of those live concert experiences like Robby Krieger playing Little Red Rooster and Backdoor Man with the guys. When we were filming that performance and Robby and Hubert were trading licks on Little Red Rooster, I was like…, damn, this is really happening. It was a high point.
As you likely know, all three men passed away in 2011. Hubert, Pinetop, and Willie. That was a real blow to everyone. We had spent four years with the guys, between shooting Perfect Age and their deaths. It was tough to lose them. They were our friends.
I love the part in the film where Willie and I greet each other at LAX, on our way to the Grammys. It reminds me of how much fun we had together and what a pleasure it was to get to know him. Creatively, I didn’t feel we had enough material to make a compelling enough film that honoured who they were.
It took me a while to figure out what to do next so I just kept reaching out to musicians that I had hoped to have played with the guys in my dream Last Waltz concert and film.
Four years later we had over 75 interviews. It all came together for us when Jasin and I sat down and looked at the whole thing as more of a narrative film than a concert film.The three guys were such incredible characters and the lives they led were more compelling than any narrative feature we could write so we approached it that way.
I now feel certain we made a much better film than the one that I had originally envisioned.
It sounds like you had an incredible time making the film. What was the hardest part for you?
As any filmmaker will tell you there are many hard times and hard parts in making a film.
But nothing could be harder than losing all three men in the same year. It created both a burden and a mission. No matter what, we had to finish the film to make a legacy for them.
The Long Road to Glory
The film has won a number of prestigious awards. What are you most proud of?
The premiere in March at SXSW (South by South West, Austin, Texas) holds special memories for me. We were honoured that so many of their friends, family and fellow musicians were able to attend. The guests included Kenny “Beady eyes”, son of Willie “Big eyes”, Patricia Morgan (manager of Willie and Pine) plus Paul Oscher (who used to play harp for Muddy).
The fact that those people who cared so much for these men were moved by the film meant a lot.