For many years, Hill Country bluesman Junior Kimbrough had a juke joint in rural Marshall County that was a destination for those in the know. People from all over the world made their way to the spot, where blues continued “All Night Long”, as the song said. The juke moved a couple of times over the years, then burned to the ground, and never reopened. So when I heard that Junior’s son was opening a new juke called Junior’s Juke Joint #2 near Holly Springs, I was thrilled. The new juke is much closer to town than the old ones had been, just north of the Rust College campus along Highway 7. The bright blue building was already abuzz with activity when I arrived, and I saw a number of people that had just come from the blues concert on the square, just as I had. Little Joe Ayers performed first, and as he was on stage Shannon McNally and Garry Burnside came in. Shortly thereafter, Junior Kimbrough’s son Robert Kimbrough got on stage and performed several tunes, and then the man of the evening appears, the juke’s owner himself, David Kimbrough Jr. As he performs a number of the Hill Country blues standards, his dad’s as well as R. L. Burnside’s, the floor fills up with willing dancers. When I left at midnight, things were still going strong. Junior’s Juke Joint #2 will be a must-visit attraction in Holly Springs.
On the Friday night of the Labor Day Weekend, I headed down into Marshall County, Mississippi for the first year of what is to be an annual picnic in memory of the late Hill Country blues guitarist R. L. Burnside. The event was being held at a place called the Blues Shack near Malone, Mississippi (although it was advertised as Waterford, Mississippi), which was just off of Highway 310 on the Old Oxford Road, not far from the old Burnside Blues Cafe location. The crowd was smaller than I had expected, perhaps because there was a threat of rain, but the blues was absolutely magnificent, with R.L.’s son Duwayne Burnside playing alongside two other great Hill Country guitarists, Kenny Brown and Little Joe Ayers. The small crowd and the outdoor stage in front of the shack gave the event the feel of a family get-together, and there was barbecue smoking on the oil-barrel grill beside the stage. Younger musicians came and went from the stage, and the music was still going strong when I left at midnight, with thunder and lightning visible to the west.
Inside the Sun House Studios gallery and performance space, Little Joe Ayers and others performed on the stage for the better part of Saturday afternoon. Ayers is from Lamar, Mississippi in Marshall County, and spent many years as a member of Junior Kimbrough’s band, the Soul Blues Boys. During a festival where there was little Hill Country blues on the authentic line-up, Ayers’ performances gave fans a chance to hear Hill Country blues in a beautiful and authentic setting.
On Sunday, July 21st, I was driving back from Atlanta to Memphis, and while I stopped at O’Henry’s Coffee in Homewood, Alabama for a latte, I saw on my phone that blues great Duwayne Burnside would be playing at Foxfire Ranch,a large outdoor venue at Waterford, Mississippi in Marshall County. So I called my homeboy Mike Suggs, who lives in Marshall County and asked him if he wanted to meet me there and he said he would. Actually, the Foxfire Ranch has blues every Sunday night during the summer months, and I was surprised at the extent of the crowd. And although this was very much Duwayne’s show, everyone who is anyone in Hill County blues just about showed up, including Shannon McNally, Kenny and Sarah Brown (organizers of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic), Little Joe Ayers and Kinny Kimbrough. It was a night of great music and great fun.
Hill Country bluesman Little Joe Ayers performs with drummer Calvin Jackson at the First National Bank/Cat Head stage in Clarksdale at the Juke Joint Festival 2013