CEDRIC BURNSIDE is blues royalty.
His grandfather R.L. Burnside — who Cedric simply calls “Big Daddy” — is one of the great icons of Mississippi blues.
Cedric’s father, Calvin Jackson, is among the ranks of the great blues drummers of all time.
As a teenager, Cedric became a part of his extended family’s music-making adventures, which included collaborations with North Mississippi legends like Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Cedric would eventually go from unofficial member of Burnside’s band to replacing his father on drums.
Big Daddy Burnside passed away in 2005, and Mr. Jackson followed ten years later. Now 39, Cedric carries on the family name with his own brand of rollicking Mississippi Hill Country blues.
As you might expect given his father’s proclivities, Cedric’s first musical love was the drums. While he has built his career mostly as a singing drummer, Cedric — a skilled blues guitarist in his own right — is stepping out front on this tour, in support of an excellent new album, Benton County Relic, due out Sept. 14.
He tells us that at this week’s must-see gig at The Jinx, he’ll sing behind the drum kit for a few songs, then step out front and bless us by accompanying his original tunes with some old-school blues guitar, learned at the feet of one of the genre’s great masters, R.L. Burnside himself.
We spoke to Cedric last week.
You are stepping out from behind the drum kit a lot these days. What’s it like making that switch to frontman?
I’ve been playing guitar 8 or 9 years now. I’m out front a lot more now, but the important thing is I’m writing songs on the guitar a lot now. I wanted to play those songs my way, as opposed to listening to someone else try to interpret my song.
Were you able to pick up guitar from your grandfather?
I always loved to watch Big Daddy play. I always watched him every chance I got. My uncle Garry Burnside also taught me a lot.
Now, I come from a very musical family! Almost everyone in the family is a musician. And it’s a big family. You have to remember, Big Daddy had 13 children of his own (laughs).
My Big Daddy was one of the great legends of the blues. And when you’re around a person a lot, you start to walk and talk like ‘em. You can’t help it.
I learned a lot about music, and about life, from him. I guess I started out with the guitar playing a lot of tunes in open G, like Big Daddy.
Most people are familiar with the Delta blues, but tell us what’s different about that and Hill Country blues.
I love Delta blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues. But when it comes down to it, Hill Country blues is quite different from all of them. It’s got a very unorthodox style of rhythm.
I compare Hill Country blues to a hard-headed child. It’s just going to do things its own way, like it or not (laughs).
You can’t write this music. You have to feel it.
You went on the road with your granddad when you were just 13. You must have grown up quick!
You can say that again! (laughs) We started playing juke joints with my uncle, with him and Junior Kimbrough. Sometimes, the bass player wouldn't show up, or the drummer wouldn't show up. So I was there to fill in if somebody didn't make it to the show.
We probably shouldn’t have been in there, but that’s how it was back then. They would hide us behind the cooler if the police showed up!
And these days, I’m all up in the juke joints (laughs).
It’s got to be difficult playing drums and singing at the same time.
It was at first! But then I got the hang of it. At first it was damn hard. Me and my uncle Garry practiced for about six or seven months, in a project called the Burnside Exploration.
My dad had a unique style of drumming. Even now I find myself mimicking some of his drum techniques, his rolls, stuff like that. A lot of people tell me, “you sound like your dad,” and it’s true.
Is the old Hill Country sound being celebrated enough, do you think?
I think lots of bands are keeping it alive. The Black Keys are definitely doing their part. The North Mississippi All Stars are another successful band in the Hill Country blues tradition.
But I live the blues every day. And these days, anybody can have the blues.
I try to stay true to myself, write about what I know, write about things in my life, whether good or bad. Hopefully somebody out there can relate to it. I’m just keeping the blues alive.
Like my Big Daddy always said, “Blues is the roots of all music.”