Cedric Burnside was just a young boy back then. That was back in the day when blues was king in the Mississippi hill country, and folks would come out in numbers to the ol' Burnside juke joint to hear live blues and dance until dark.
There wasn't a radio around for miles, but that didn't matter, because in Holly Springs they had the blues.
By the age of 13, Burnside was out of Holly Springs and touring with his grandfather, legendary musician R.L. “Big Daddy” Burnside, and today he's still on the road sharing hill country blues with people around the country.
His band, The Cedric Burnside Project, will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at The Phoenix, 1122 Broadway. Tickets are $7 at the door.
“The biggest thing for me was me watching him (his grandfather) play all those house parties when I was young, and me being able to build up the courage to jump on the drums and to even try to play,” Cedric Burnside said. “I loved every minute of it. Being around my uncles and watching them definitely inspired me. I already knew at a young age what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that is play hill country blues.”
Growing up playing in juke joints, Burnside said he is used to people “stomping the dust out of concrete,” and that same energy will be flowing at the Phoenix.
As with any musician, Burnside pours his all into his work. No matter if he is playing for three people or three hundred 300, he said performing takes him to a special place. It's not only a place where he can remember his late grandfather, but also a place where he can pass on history, family traditions and an underappreciated genre of blues.
Closely tied to the famous delta blues created in southern Mississippi, hill country blues was made in the northern part of the state near the Tennessee line and is characterised by a strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion, with few chord changes, unconventional song structures and an emphasis on the groove.
It wasn't until the 1990s that this style of music became fully recognized with the growing popularity of Big Daddy Burnside and Fat Possum Records.
“I like all music and all blues from Chicago to Texas and especially delta blues, but out of all the blues I hear, the hill country blues is totally different,” Cedric Burnside said. “It's a different feel, different drive and different timing. I call it field music. It's the kind of music where you hear patterns. You have to get up there and imagine where the next change is going to come. People have come to enjoy and love it.
“For a long time, the hill country blues didn't get the recognition that it should have. It's a long time coming,” he said.
In late 2006, Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm teamed up and toured as The Juke Joint Duo, which produced the award-winning record “Two Man Wrecking Crew.” In 2010, Burnside collaborated with his younger brother, Cody Burnside, and his uncle, Garry Burnside, to create The Cedric Burnside Project.
The three created a new genre of music by infusing hill country blues, funk, R&B and soul. They had a great thing going, too. Sadly, in 2012, Cody died. Today, Burnside keeps playing for his lost family and bluesmen.
Today, Burnside is touring with guitarist and childhood friend Trenton Ayers, who is known for his deep knowledge of the blues and his skills on both guitar and bass. Ayers plays in many genres, but he has a deep respect for hill country blues, yet always tries to find ways to keep the music fresh.
For Burnside, playing hill country blues is about keeping the tradition. This genre of blues is dying quickly, and musicians like Burnside are doing their best to keep it alive.
Cedric has performed and recorded with artists such as Jimmy Buffett, T Model Ford, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Widespread Panic, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Last year, he also won the Memphis Blues Award for Drummer of the Year for the third time.
Burnside just had one tip for anyone coming out to the show: “If you're wearing glasses or a hat, wear a strap on 'em because we pack a punch. We will definitely give you something to wiggle to.”