What if there were no Beatles, Eric Clapton or Rolling Stones? The new documentary film, Sidemen – Long Road to Glory successful answers that they may not have existed in their remembered incarnation if it weren’t for the influence of three compelling blues sidemen: Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin or Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Sidemen, which premiered last year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, is directed by Scott Rosenbaum and produced by Rosenbaum with Jason Cadic, Tony Grazia and Joe White.
Sidemen are the forgotten members of music – often huge contributors to an artists’ live and studio sound but not receiving any of the accolades or attention worthy of them. The three men focused on in the film (Perkins, Sumlin, Smith) had eerily parallel lives while working for the legendary Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. They were all African-American men, steeped in their love of the blues, who all played well into their 80’s and 90’s, who came from humble beginnings in the deep south and latched on to prolific mentors. The men achieve great heights as far as stellar musical composition is concerned but all are eventually broke and underappreciated as the appreciation of blue’s fades and their mentor’s pass away. The film contains the last interviews and last live performances of these musicians and last links to the significant blue’s era. The back story or each player is depicted in quite meticulous fashion and it allows for an intimate portrait of each’s long road to glory. Each road is equally compelling and we learn firsthand why their contribution to music so noteworthy.
The film’s most compelling component are the long list of contemporaries and relevant respected musicians that are intertwined and share thoughts, insights and respect. The long list of luminaries includes Gregg Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, Robby Krieger, Joe Perry, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Reynolds, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Johnny Winter. The outpouring of emotion from these successful musicians towards these men, that the masses generally don’t know, speaks volumes about their far-reaching influence. One impeccable segment focused on the Rolling Stones and their risky cover of “Little Red Rooster” which Howlin’ Wolf had famously recorded in 1961.
Well known comedian, Marc Maron, adds a smooth and steady voice as the narrator. He effectively knows when to be informative, authoritative or add a subtle flair to the proceedings. Veteran editor, Bo Mehrad, does a superb job splicing the film together; his style and intercutting facilitates a smooth flow of action and keeps an appropriate focus on important moments. There is effective and professional animation used throughout to recreate historical situations that don’t have any documentation.
The film culminates in a satisfying conclusion that subtly pulls on one’s heart strings in a memorable and thought provoking manner. Their important legacies and music live on through this compelling, heartfelt and memorable documentary that reminds us of those that make an indelible mark that might otherwise have been regretfully overlooked and forgotten.
The relentless images of these men sharing their musical chops will mesmerize and enthrall even the casual fan. They all deserve to be household names and by releasing this film, the daring filmmakers have finally given credit where it is due and the result where satiate anyone’s soul with an open heart. The tight 75-minute opus film paints a portrait of an important musical era in our history without force or conjecture. The result is flowing and seamless entertainment while providing a valuable lesson. In a saturated market of music documentaries, Sidemen stands out as a poignant and important statement on the human condition and the unsung heroes of song.
A special screening will take place on February 23rd at the historic Douglas Theater in Macon, GA hosted by Allman Brothers / Big House.
There is currently a Kickstarter campaign (http://kck.st/2k8ikqh) currently underway to help secure clearance rights for the film. In the event that these funds are not secured, the film may very well land on the shelf, so any assistance is greatly appreciated.