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Published: 2016/03/19
by Warren Hines

Cedric Burnside: Hill Country and Beyond

Cedric Burnside confided that he loves to play at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern in Starkville, Miss., because it reminds him of an old time juke joint. With its low ceilings, the band literally plays from a hole in the wall at the end of a small corridor defined by curved brick columns between the bar and the pool hall. It is one of the most famous Mississippi Hill Country bars, and we were there, essentially, for the send-off performance for a driving, two man Hill Country blues act nominated for the Grammy for Best Blues Album of 2015—The Cedric Burnside Project.

Cool and confident, Cedric has a friendly demeanor characteristic of his trade. He favors his beloved grandfather, R. L. Burnside, who he affectionately calls, “Big Daddy.” Cedric ordered a Crown Royal neat with lemon. At thirty-seven, he carries the torch of an internationally famous regional sound, the Mississippi blues.

Trenton Ayers cautiously approached the booth where we were seated for the interview. The son of Earl “Little Joe” Ayers, who toured with Junior Kimbrough, Trenton sat, mostly quiet, as we caught up on some Burnside family stories and talked about the blues. He seemed to look to Cedric like an older brother. By the time Trenton got up on stage and saw all the people in the corridor, boogieing down, he wore a confident grin, nodding his head with the prowess of a much older blues entertainer.

After years of playing in another duo, Two-Man Wrecking Crew, with Lightning Malcolm, Cedric seems to have figured out that it doesn’t take too many people in a band to create an enormous sound. He was born on an R. L. Burnside tour, started playing drums at the age of eight and went on tour with R. L. Burnside’s band before he was old enough to own a driver’s license.

“Well, I would have to say Hill Country blues means a whole lot, considering, you know, my Big Daddy is R. L. Burnside,” Cedric explained. Along with Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside, “made the Hill Country name proper. It’s been in our blood. You know, I got a very musical family and, my Big Daddy was playing his music before I was born, after I was born and I played with him a bunch of years and I just like to keep it going. To me, Hill Country blues means a hell of a lot.”

Cedric has had a colorful career, playing in Hill Country blues projects and playing music with everyone from his Big Daddy to Jimmy Buffett to Widespread Panic. Having funded the Grammy nominated album, Descendants of Hill Country, through a Kickstarter page, he has developed a loyal fan base through his recording career and his international touring schedule.

“Well, they receive [our music] pretty good just about anywhere we go, even if it’s their first time hearing it, but I’d say my favorite place, internationally would have to be Australia. We’re actually going to Australia in March. Trenton’s never been before.”

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