Cedric Burnside Expresses His Hill Country Love

April 2, 2024
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When Cedric Burnside accepted a Grammy in the traditional blues category for his album I Be Trying in 2022, it wasn’t just just a victory for him – it was also the first time any Mississippi Hill Country blues artist had nabbed a golden gramophone. 

Music aficionados and tastemakers had long celebrated the blues music of northern Mississippi, though. A third-generation Hill Country bluesman, Cedric learned by watching and then playing alongside his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, whom he affectionately calls his “big daddy,” as well as Junior Kimbrough, who referred to his own variant as “cotton patch soul blues.” 

At juke joints in the region’s hills and hollers, performances of canonical songs like “Jumper on the Line” and “All Night Long” by R.L., Junior and their extended families could stretch to twenty minutes or longer on the strength of a solid backbeat, often played by Cedric himself. After R.L. passed in 2005, though, Cedric got serious about his guitar playing, and has since added to the Hill Country songbook with three solo albums, including the new Hill Country Love, out April 5.

“Down to my bones, I am Hill Country blues,” Cedric says. “It’s in my blood; it’s in my heart. It’s what I love.”

Cedric spoke with us about Hill Country Love and growing up at the feet of the masters. 

Your last album, ‘I Be Trying,’ won a Grammy award—your first, and the first for any Hill Country blues artist. How has that impacted your life?

Cedric Burnside: It definitely took me to the next level. I get more shows, I get better shows, and I’m able to write more of my [own] music. I Be Trying was a lot of original songs and that got me a Grammy, so I feel I have the chance to put more originals out there and see how people relate. I try to remain humble, but I know [R.L. and Junior] would be really proud of me for doing something that’s never been done before for the Hill Country blues.

What does the title of your new album, ‘Hill Country Love,’ mean to you?

Cedric Burnside: As a kid, I was one of many grandchildren listening at my big daddy and them play house parties—my big daddy, my dad, Calvin [Jackson], and all my uncles. All the rest of the grandkids was kicking up dust dancing to the music, and I would dance some, but I was more in amazement of watching my big daddy and my dad play. It’s always been something I can go to no matter what I’m feeling. If I’m feeling sad, if I’m feeling discouraged, confused, I can always go to my music. And I just thank God for giving me that gift. “Hill Country Love” is one of those songs where I express how I feel in my music and just taking it around the world, and just almost a thank-you to God.

It wasn’t long until you got your turn to play music, right?

Cedric Burnside: By the time I was ten I played in juke joints, and I did my first tour with my big daddy at age thirteen. I was just determined. My uncle Garry Burnside was twelve years old, and he was pretty good on the bass at that age, and I played pretty good on the drums. And they used to hide us behind the beer coolers when the police come into the juke joint, because if they sent us home [then] the band was gone, you know? So they had to try to find a way to keep us there, and when the police leave, we jump back on instruments and get the music going.

What did you learn about Hill Country blues from playing them? 

Cedric Burnside: I grew up learning music from them and watching them, but it’s just who I am. I’m not really trying to fill their shoes, because I think that’s impossible, but I am trying to make my own way. And I think that’s something they would love if they was here today, to watch me step up to the door they opened for me to keep this music going. Not that none of my other family is keeping the music going, because my uncle Duwayne Burnside, my uncle Garry Burnside, they still doing it. Cameron Kimbrough, he keeping the music going, as well. I was always inspired by my big daddy to just go for what I love, and Hill Country blues is what I love. It’s what’s inside of me, and I’m just bringing it out.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the blues?

Cedric Burnside: I think people look at blues as sad music. And not that there’s not any sadness or depression in the blues, but people don’t stay in [their] sadness, they don’t stay in their depression. To me, blues is living to talk about it. Because if you stay in that state, I don’t think you can really do anything. You don’t have the strength to try to write music, you don’t have the strength to try to come out of the situation. 

How tied to the sense of place, and everything that goes with it, is your music?

Cedric Burnside: Mississippi is everything to me. I’ve been to some of the most beautiful places in the world, but nothing makes me want to leave Mississippi. I just love the air of Mississippi, I love the trees of Mississippi, the land. It’s a certain spiritual energy here to me. I can go outside and listen to the birds, and then I can write a song. I can go outside and walk through the woods and write a song. I love it. And I think I’m gonna be here until I die. I’m gonna be buried here.



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