Sidemen blues doc set for SXSW premiere

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The documentary Sidemen: Long Road To Glory is to receive its world premiere at the South By Southwest festival next month.

The film focuses on the lives of piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin – musicians who were sidemen with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf throughout their careers.

The Scott Rosenbaum-directed film features interviews with the trio, along with their final live performance together before their deaths in 2011 – including footage of Perkins and Smith’s Grammy win for Best Traditional Blues Album in February the same year.

And Rosenbaum reveals the seeds for the documentary were sown while shooting his previous film The Perfect Age Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

The director exclusively tells TeamRock: “We had a scene where the main characters, Jason Ritter and Kevin Zegers, happened upon an old joint while on their journey along Route 66.

“I was aware of Sumlin, Perkins and Smith so we took a chance and wrote these names into the scene, unsure if that would ever materialise. But once we went to cast the film, their tour manager Hugh Southard pulled it all together for us and added Sugar Blue on harp and Robert Stroger on bass.

“Shooting the scene was a fantastic experience and getting to sit with these legends at lunch and pick their brains about their long careers blew me away.”

That led Southard and Rosenbaum to establish The Perfect Age Of Rock ’N’ Roll Blues Band featuring the musicians in 2009 – and Rosenbaum set out to document a “last waltz” style film over the next two years.

But when Perkins died in March 2011, Smith in September and Sumlin in December the same year, Rosenbaum thought he’d reached the end of the road – until he met Supersonic Blues Machine man Fabrizio Grossi.

Rosenbaum continues: “He became the film’s saviour in that he opened the door to many of the great musicians I would ultimately interview.”

The list of contributors to the film includes Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Walter Trout, Derek Trucks, Shemekia Copeland, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Robby Krieger and the late Johnny Winter.

Rosenbaum concludes: “The term labour of love is used so often, but in this case it’s appropriate and undeniable. My team and I fell in love with these great men who were not only giants of the blues history, but also important figures in American history.

“They trusted us with their legacies and with telling their stories. My only hope is that we were able to capture the feeling we had for them in the film and that when people get to see it, they have a bit of that experience for themselves.”

South By Southwest 2016 runs from March 11-20 in Austin, Texas.