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American Routes Shortcuts: Cedric Burnside

Cedric Burnside
American Routes

Cedric Burnside heard hill country blues from his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, also known as Big Daddy. As a youth, Cedric toured with Big Daddy playing drums in his band and with elders Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Once of age, Cedric formed the “Juke Joint Duo” with friend Lightnin’ Malcolm, and later the Cedric Burnside Project. His 2015 album Descendants of Hill Country was nominated for a Grammy. But it began for him living with his grandparents in Holly Springs, MS.

Cedric Burnside: My Big Daddy and Big Mama had thirteen children, seven of them were boys and five out of the seven played music. But Big Daddy used to throw house parties every other weekend at the little shack house we stayed at. You know, sitting there as a kid kicking up dust, listening to the music, I knew right then, that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Nick Spitzer: Sometimes there’s a big split between people that played blues and people that were church people. Was that kind of an issue around your household?

CB: Well, we went to church every blue moon, but my church really literally was the juke joint. You know me and my uncle Gary Burnside, I was about ten and he was about twelve, you know we had no business being in the juke joints at that age but we were able to play music. I was playing drums, and he was playing bass, and that’s how I began playing with my Big Daddy. One night Fat Possum came to the juke joint and-

NS: The record company Fat Possum.

CB: Yeah the record company Fat Possum, and they saw me playing behind my Big Daddy, and they were like, “Man he’s good, he should be the one going on the road with you.” Next thing I know, age thirteen I did my first tour, you know, just from playing in the juke joints. That was my school and my church.

NS: Now how would you describe you Big Daddy’s style, R.L. Burnside? You know what makes his sound distinct to you among many people that played the blues?

CB: I would say the unorthodox style of the rhythm that he had with his music. I love all types of blues, Chicago blues, you know, Texas blues, but when it comes down to hill country blues, you know the music my Big Daddy played, it was just, it’s kind of like a pet that don’t listen, it just do whatever it want to do.

NS: How have people reacted in the local scene when you add kind of an urban soul, big beat sound, or you add hip-hop, rap, I mean what’s the reaction when you make a little shift in style?

CB: I’m not going to say everybody loved it, especially the older generation, but for the most part, people liked it. I kind of did it because I thought it was something unique to mix hip-hop with hill country blues.

CB: I have to say, we’re the younger generation, and we learned from the source, which is you know, Junior Kimbrough and my Big Daddy, R.L. We learned from those cats, and I just want to put out there where I got it from and how I want to do it in my generation. I’m a part of that culture, and it’s what I love and it’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

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