Chip off the old blues block: Cecil Burnside,
C“Eight bars, 12 bars… with this music, there’s no bars, you know?” CEDRIC BURNSIDE
EDRIC BURNSIDE, the 39-year-old grandson of wildcat Mississippi bluesman RL Burnside, has as much right as anybody to keep its often-unfathomable traditions alive. From the age of six, he lived in ‘Big Daddy’ RL’s house in Holly Springs, Mississippi: his fate was sealed when he jumped in on drums at one of grandad’s regular house parties. “I just knew deep down inside of me,” he says today, barking into his cell phone by the roadside in a remote part of Mississippi, “that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” At 14, he replaced his father, Calvin Jackson, as RL’s live drummer, and soon toured Europe supporting the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as his ‘Big Daddy’ blew minds in alt-rock circles. After Burnside Sr passed away in ’05, Cedric played with the North Mississippi All-Stars, cut CDs with associated axeman Lightnin’ Malcolm, and repeatedly won the Best Drummer gong at America’s Blues Music Awards. At the start of the ’10s, though, he started toying with songcraft, and this month releases sophomore set Benton County Relic, an album of hazy, transfixing alchemy where beats and song structures follow a peculiar, unmathematical logic. “My newfound love is guitar,” he enthuses. “People are used to Chicago blues, Texas blues, even Delta blues, and I like all of those styles, but when it comes down to hill country, it’s just different. There’s a very unorthodox style of rhythm. People are used to eight bars, or 12 bars, but with this music, there’s no bars, you know? The old cats, they like to change when they get ready.” The record’s 12 tracks find Burnside Jr talking about his life in disarmingly no-nonsense terms. We Made It relates to his impoverished origins. “We grew up with no toilet, no bath tub,” he says, “we had to haul water for years, so the song’s saying, You can make it through.” Equally unflinching are Hard To Stay Cool, about the pain of losing his parents, uncle and brother in close succession, and, at the other extreme, the carnal Give It To You. It’s all as old as the hills themselves, but equally, fresh as the morning. “I want to definitely keep the music alive, and not forget my roots,” he says, “but also keep evolving with time.” He’s doing ‘Big Daddy’ proud.
Benton County Relic is out on September 14 on Single Lock Records.
Helter skelter Delta: Cedric Burnside, staying on the straight and narrow.