photos by Dustin Coan
Cedric Burnside, grandson of Hill Country blues artist R.L Burnside, has a new album out on Single Lock Records: Benton County Relic. [To see our review of this album, click here: REVIEW: Cedric Burnside’s “Benton County Relic” is the Real Hill Country Blues] Americana Highways had a chance to talk to him about the album and his growing up in Hill Country, a couple weeks ago. At the time the phone rang, Cedric said he was way out in the country with questionable cell service, but after a few minutes we found a connection. See for yourself:
AH: Your album is titled Benton County Relic. Tell us about why you titled it that.
CB: I’m from Holly Springs, Mississippi; that’s where I was raised; and then I moved to a town called Ashland, Mississippi on the outskirts of Holly Springs and that’s in Benton County. “Relic” is the idea of being old school, growing up around old school music my whole life, that’s the music my Big Daddy played for me growing up, so the idea of “relic” really fits my soul. And my soul fits my music.
AH: You were immersed in playing music with your grandfather and family even as a kid growing up. Did you know that was special at the time?
CB: It just felt normal growing up, because I was just born into it. I’ve got a very musical family. My Big Daddy and my Big Mama had thirteen children, and they had seven boys, and 5 out of the 7 of them played music. It was just regular to me, just the way things were. I didn’t really look at it as unique, until I was older. But it was really kind of beautiful growing up that way.
AH: How important would you say it is for kids to have a connection to music growing up?
CB: I have three daughters, they are 19, 15, and 13. They sing and learned guitar and I watched how it affected them. I think kids should definitely play music in schools. I’d like to start a program, maybe in Holly Springs or in Ashland, or even out at my own land out in the country, where I could teach kids someday. I would love that.
AH: Does music help people be better equipped to handle life’s challenges?
CB: Music has helped me through my whole life, and helped me through good times and definitely though the bad times and the sad times. The healing power of music is universal, and helps people all over the world.
With me in my music, I always put God first, because He is the one, the only one who gives you your gift. Everybody has a gift, and I thank him Him for giving me the gift of music. And I’ll always be thankful to my Big Daddy, R.L. Burnside. With his legacy he left the doors open for a lot of people, and not just the Burnside family, but a lot of people love his music and then want to listen to and play his music and they follow the Hill Country style. It’s just beautiful in itself, all the musicians that love this Hill Country music, and it’s become a larger community of people who want to keep it going as much as the Burnside family does.
AH: How much did you get to play with your grandfather growing up?
CB: I played with him for at least twelve years, I did my first tour with him when I was thirteen years old. We toured the US and overseas – you name it, I was there with him. I wasn’t even old enough to get into the clubs, I had to wear a wristband to make sure I didn’t drink (laughs) but lord knows – I grew up around all that moonshine too! I thank God that my Big Daddy was such a great person, he kept a good eye on me. He passed in 2005, and here I am still doing it and keeping it going.
AH: You are a 4-time winner of Drummer of the Year at the Blues Music Awards, yet on your new album you’re playing guitar. What’s it like playing with a drummer?
CB: Its different for me! But I always wanted to know what it was like to play with a drummer, what it sounded like when I wasn’t the one playing the drums. I also wanted to feel what it felt like to play with a drummer. I am going to play more guitar in the future, balance that with incorporating drums as well, because drums were my first instrument. But guitar is definitely my new-found love.
AH: It’s interesting that you described the way it feels, that the rhythms are something you feel.
CB: Rhythms and drums are the heartbeat of it. With the style of music that I play – I’m from the hill country, that rhythm and style is all I’ve ever known, growing up with my Big Daddy and Junior Kimbrough Jessie Mae Hemphill and Othar Turner and those cats. Being around that music has really instilled that style in my soul, and in my body. I feel like I am Hill Country Blues. It’s a very unique style of music, and I guess you could put a dance to it and call it the Hill Country dance too. (laughs)
AH: You recorded this album in Brooklyn, NY. How did that come about?
CB: The cd consists of me with a guy named Brian Jay; he plays in a band called the Pimps of Joytime. He invited me to come up and do a YouTube session with a series he has called “Jammin’ With J.” I flew up to do that, and while we were in the studio, we started playing around with some new music I had written. And before I knew it, in two days, we had 26 songs; more than enough for the album.
I played drums on two tracks, and Brian played the rest. It was a bunch of fun. The universe was working with us. And it was on fire, the way it all came together, it was like it just … happened!
AH: “We Made It,” the opening track on your album, is really very real song, addressing real life worries, for example of people not having water in their homes, with lines like “didn’t have a bathtub, walked three miles every day to have water in the house for another day, but we made it, yes we did.” What inspired you to write this song?
CB: Every time I write, I want to be real with myself, and starting from there, that’s the only way I can be real with my music. I like to write about what I go through in life, what my family goes through, and what some of my friends go through. That song was inspired by me coming up as a kid, letting people know how I grew up, and how as a result I don’t take anything for granted. A part of my lifestyle that I live today — the way I am today — comes from the way I grew up. That’s what made me who I am today.
There are families right now today who still live that way, right now, as we speak, in different parts of Mississippi. I hope that song can speak to them as well and let them know that there will be a change; that life will be better for them, they will make it. I lived that same lifestyle and I hope to inspire people.
AH: “There is So Much” is a positive love song to a pretty lady, tell us about the inspiration for that one.
CB: That comes from different aspects of being in relationships. I have been in some good ones and some bad ones (laughs) This song comes from a good moment in a relationship I was in at one point. (Laughs)
AH: You were at AmericanaFest 2018 last September, how was that experience?
CB: That was my first time at AmericanaFest. I got to play at Third Man Records, it was such an experience to get there. One of the workers there gave me a tour and showed me their inventory in their warehouse, so that was all connected and was a beautiful thing to see. And playing there at Third Man was a beautiful thing too.
AH: You’ve signed with Single Lock Records, what is it like working with them?
CB: I have signed with a few record companies in my past, and this is by far the best company I’ve ever signed with. I have a great team working with me. I’m looking forward to the future with them, and that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that.
And again I thank God and R.L Burnside! And I would love to say thank you for thierview and letting people know they can go to my website and see where I’ll be playing because I’m steady hitting the road!
For Cedric Burnside’s new album, look here: http://www.singlelock.com/new-products/cedric-burnside-benton-county-relic For Jamming With J YouTube series, see here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jammingwithjmusic And for Cedric Burnside’s tour dates, check here:
Nov 1 Thu