EXCLUSIVE: Cedric Burnside Carries the Torch for Hill Country Blues

No matter where in life his journey takes him, Grammy-winning bluesman Cedric Burnside will never, ever forget his roots.

photo by Abraham Rowe via Mississippi Folk Life

Burnside recently sat down with The Creek’s Anthony Ennis for an in-depth interview and studio performance, where the two once again bonded over a shared love and respect for the musical roots of North Mississippi’s hill country, and its blues that not only define Burnside’s sound and records, but also his entire life personally.

On his latest album, aptly named Hill Country Love, Burnside breathes new life into many famous tunes passed down through generations, including ones performed by his famous grandfather, the great R.L. Burnside, whom he affectionally calls “Big Daddy.” For the younger Burnside, the choice to cut these songs was a simple one with a significant meaning: to give flowers to the great that walked so he could run in his time.

“I always try to pay tribute to the Hill Country legends,” Burnside told Ennis on-air. “No matter what album I put out…every album I put out, I try to pay tribute. And so that specific song, ‘Shake ’em on Down,’ even though I know it was originally done by ‘Bukka’ White, I was used to hearing Mississippi Fred McDowell do it.”

Mississippi Fred McDowell, via Spotify

“My Big Daddy and Mississippi Fred McDowell was really good friends,” he recalled.

What followed next is a story fully supporting the notion that Burnside’s tremendous gifts are more than simply a measure of the work he’s put into his craft (which is a lot of work, by the way). They’re also simply part of his DNA, his childhood–inspired by supernatural sounds and anecdotes as familiar and commonplace as the pattern of fabric on the couch of his childhood home.

It’s hard for the average person to comprehend growing up in such history, but not for the grandson of R.L. Burnside. For that kid, this was everyday conversation.

“They drank moonshine together, played house parties together, shot craps…and I remember my Big Daddy telling me a story about being at a house party with Mr. Fred. Mr. Fred would go and play 15, 20 minutes on the guitar and my Big Daddy would be in the back shooting craps. And when he get about 15, 20 minutes in, then Mr. Fred will come tap him on the shoulder and say, all right Ariel, it’s your time now. So he will go play the guitar 15, 20 minutes and let Mr. Fred shoot craps. But I remember hearing that song for the first time as a little kid. My Big Daddy used to play it around the house, but he used to play it on the record player. I was one of many grandchildren listening at that music and when he used to play it for us, I always would listen.”

“I didn’t know who Mr. Fred was then, even though him [R.L. Burnside] and my Big Mama would have stories. They would say, ‘Fred did this’ and ‘Fred did that.’ I didn’t know who they was talking about, but I remember hearing that song. And so make a long story short, I wanted to put that song on there as a tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell as well as my Big Daddy.”

“I always like to pay tribute to the cats that really showed me the ropes and the ones that I listened to as a kid growing up.”

And he has done so exceptionally with these new recordings, further solidifying his place in the newest layer to the foundation of the country blues that raised him so well.

We’ll have more from Cedric’s interview available to read next week. In the meantime, you can listen to the interview below and check out his latest album HERE.