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Review: ‘Sidemen’ highlights overlooked blues players

Doc looks at contributions of Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith who never got their due

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Following in the footsteps of “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” and “20 Feet from Stardom,” music documentaries that highlighted personalities and players that never quite got their due, comes “Sidemen: Long Road to Glory,” an enlightening doc about bluesmen Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Director Scott D. Rosenbaum lays out the case that these players were just as important as their counterparts, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, but for a number of reasons, were never given the recognition they deserve.

Rosenbaum dives into the history of the blues and the migration of Southern blues musicians, post WWI, to cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Without the blues, there’s no rock ‘n’ roll, and Rosenbaum shows the ways artists like the Rolling Stones gobbled up the blues, put their own spin on it and spat it back to American audiences.

He wrangles talking heads including Bonnie Raitt, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Joe Perry and Kenny Wayne Shepherd to wax about the importance of Perkins, Sumlin and Smith.

Those musicians tell their own stories as well, as Rosenbaum filmed them in their final years. (All three musicians died in 2011, still lacking, in large part, the notoriety “Sidemen” aims to give them.)

The approach is occasionally scattershot, as Rosenbaum mixes animated sequences with live performances and sometimes casts too wide a net with his storytelling. As the narrator, comedian Marc Maron comes off as a tourist in unfamiliar terrain; he lacks the conviction or gravitas to make viewers feel his words.

But the subjects are worthy of praise and “Sidemen” gives them their shine. As Perkins says when picking up his first Grammy at age 97, “better late than never.”


(313) 222-2284


‘Sidemen: Long Road to Glory’


Not rated

Running time: 77 minutes