R. L. Burnside was one of the most famous musicians in the blues tradition of the North Mississippi Hill Country, and many of his children and grandchildren have carried on that great tradition, including Cedric Burnside, a grandson of the late R.L. who is accomplished on both the guitar and the drums. After coming to prominence as part of a duo with another Mississippi bluesman, Lightning Malcolm, he more recently has formed a band called the Cedric Burnside Project, which is really just him on drums and Trenton Ayers on guitar (I suspect that Trenton Ayers is kin to the older Marshall County bluesman Little Joe Ayers). On Saturday June 21, Cedric brought his music to the Levitt Shell in Memphis’ Overton Park, and an overflow crowd despite hit and run showers early in the evening. Beginning on acoustic guitar, Burnside soon switched to drums, and performed most of the Hill Country standards, including “Coal Black Mattie”, “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”, and even the late Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me In The City.” It was a great evening of great Mississippi blues.
After Garry Burnside performed, his brother Duwayne Burnside came onto the stage in front of Cat Head Delta Blues to perform his set. Duwayne performs many of his father’s classic Hill Country blues compositions, and frequently performs in and around North Mississippi. He is also the co-owner of Alice Mae’s Cafe just north of the square in Holly Springs on North Center Street.
The conventional wisdom is that there is really only one Black fife-and-drum band left in America, that of Sharde Thomas in Panola County, so it was thrilling to see a second one at this year’s Juke Joint Festival, even if it shared a member with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. R. L. Boyce, a blues musician from Como has long held yard parties at his house, and some of these have featured fife-and-drum music. At the Cat Head stage at this year’s festival, Boyce brought out a fife-and-drum band which featured Otha Turner’s nephew, Andre Otha Evans on the flute, rather than the bass drum he customarily plays with the Rising Star. Perhaps it’s a sign that the tradition has some life remaining in it, at least in Mississippi.
David Kimbrough Jr. is another of the sons of Junior Kimbrough, an amazing guitarist whom we don’t see quite as often since he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, but I recall his dulcimer playing at last summer’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and a memorable concert last year at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs with his brothers Kent and Robert. Any opportunity to see him should not be missed.
Robert Kimbrough is one of the many sons of the late legendary bluesman Junior Kimbrough, and a frequent performer at the Juke Joint Fest each year in Clarksdale. This year, he performed on the Cat Head stage in front of Roger Stolle’s Cat Head Delta Blues shop, and after his set posed for a picture with two of his brothers that are also musicians, Kent (a drummer) and David (a guitarist). Robert Kimbrough has also released a new album this year called It’s Your World.
I learned about the Blues At Home Blowout at the Lamar Lounge from attorney Tom Freeland’s excellent North Mississippi Commentor blog, which is a great online destination for all things Oxford, from music, to legal things to Faulknerian lore, so even though I had just gone to Oxford the week before, I had to go again. The line-up displayed on the poster was absolutely amazing, and I frankly could not imagine how all of those artists would be able to perform even in the three hours or so allotted for the concert. As it turned out, not all the performers listed appeared, but even so, the three hours were jam-packed with blues, and everything got worked in by the expedient of having Jimbo Mathus on drums for everyone, and keeping the same bass player throughout, and they did a yeoman’s job, although I’m sure they were quite tired when it was all over. The event was actually an after-party for Mississippi artist H.C. Porter‘s remarkable Blues At Home exhibit at the University of Mississippi, and fearing that I wouldn’t get a table in front of the stage otherwise, I showed up at the Lamar Lounge two hours before starting time. As it turned out, Jimbo Mathus performed a dinner hour set on guitar with his bass player for an hour before the starting time for the concert. He then switched to drums, and the first performer of the night came on stage, 82-year-old Leo “Bud” Welch, who released his first album Sabougla Voices this year on Fat Possum Records‘ Big Legal Mess subsidiary. He was followed by Hattiesburg/Jackson bluesman Vasti Jackson, a musician I had often heard my poet friend Charlie Braxton mention. Vasti Jackson was followed by Natchez blues guitarist Y.Z. Ealey, who is a brother of Southern soul star Theodis Ealey, and whose style showed a considerable influence from swamp blues and swamp pop. He was joined by Broke and Hungry Records artist Terry “Harmonica” Bean sitting in on harmonica. Mickey Rogers was up next, a blues guitarist I had seen last year on a trip to Indianola, and then Jackson-based Jesse Robinson came up, a guitarist I was really not familiar with, but whose guitar skills amazed everyone in the room. Behind him came Kenny Brown, the hometown favorite who grew up with blues legend Joe Callicot in Nesbit, Mississippi and who studied with the late R. L. Burnside. His music can always get an Oxford crowd to their feet, and what little space was available for dancing was soon filled. Finally, the headliner of the night, Bobby Rush came and performed very briefly, as he had driven down from an earlier performance at Rhodes College in Memphis. Altogether it was an amazing night of Mississippi blues, from a number of different performers than the ones often seen in North Mississippi, and there was a sort of lagniappe when, quite unexpectedly, Vasti Jackson and Bobby Rush launched a brief guitar and harmonica duo on the back patio near the barbecue pit. All in all, one of the most memorable Mississippi blues nights ever.
One of the interesting things about Oxford, Mississippi is the extent of their live music scene for being such a small town. Of course the University of Mississippi is there, but there’s almost more live music in Oxford than in Memphis sometimes, and that can make for some interesting dilemmas, such as the one March 28, where Duwayne Burnside and the Rev. John Wilkins were at the Powerhouse, and Eric Deaton, one of the late R.L. Burnside’s disciples, was at The Blind Pig on Lamar. Although I chose to go to the Powerhouse initially, around 10 PM or so I decided to head over to the Blind Pig and catch the end of Eric Deaton’s set. As it turned out, Duwayne Burnside’s brother Garry was over there, and sat in with Eric Deaton’s trio on several songs. Not long after that, Duwayne Burnside and a lot of other people came over from the Powerhouse as that event had ended, and it ended up being a great ending to an amazing night of Hill Country blues in Oxford. And the rain had finally ended too.
While registering for the Southern Entertainment Awards at Resorts Casino in Tunica, I looked on my phone and saw where a concert of Hill Country blues was taking place at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. The weather had gotten really bad, with high winds, thunder and lightning, but I decided to drive over that way from Tunica, stopping for dinner at the Oyster Bar in Como. The concert had already started when I got to Oxford, and Sharde Thomas was on stage with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. I learned that the event was being held for the attendees of the Southern Literary Festival, which was being held on the Ole Miss campus nearby. After the fife and drum band, Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside came on stage with his band, including David Kimbrough Jr on drums, and played a selection of traditional and modern blues songs, getting the most applause for his reading of his father’s “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line.” (The strange title of that song had always mystified me, until I read recently that rural women who were cheating on their husbands used to hang a man’s jumpsuit on their clothesline as a signal to their boyfriends that the coast was clear and they could come over). Duwayne Burnside was followed by the Rev. John Wilkins, whose style of gospel is largely based on the music of Hill Country blues, despite the religious tone of the lyrics. Although I had seen all the performers elsewhere in the past, it was an exciting and enjoyable performance.
On Tuesday December 16, the Memphis Music Foundation and the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy sponsored a Memphis Music Holiday Party at the 1884 Lounge of Minglewood Hall in Midtown. The event featured some great barbecue and desserts, as well as live music from the Steven Lee Trio featuring trumpeter Johnny Yancey and his son, drummer Nigel Yancey, and the Hill Country blues inflected rock band Turchi. Over a hundred people came to get in the festive spirit, including legendary producer Boo Mitchell and Elizabeth Montgomery of Ardent Records.
Last Friday night, as David Kimbrough Jr struck up the first few notes of his first tune at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs, I realized something momentous was happening that ought to be preserved for the future, so I recorded the entire show with a recording app in my iPhone. Of course the recordings were made under less than optimum conditions, but I have used the editing software in Audacity to clean the tracks up as best I can. Enjoy this authentic Hill Country blues played by three of Junior Kimbrough’s sons, David, Robert and Kenny. David’s album Shell-Shocked can be purchased on iTunes here. Kenny also recorded an album under the name Kent Kimbrough on Hill Country Records, and that can also be purchased on iTunes here.