Cedric Burnside’s love for music was born in a juke joint, alongside his grandfather, legendary singer, songwriter, and guitarist R.L. Burnside. Though Cedric seeks to pay tribute to the man he calls “Big Daddy” and his own father, blues drummer Calvin Jackson, he blends elements of their styles with his own contemporary vibe.
He played drums for the Cedric Burnside Project’s “Descendants of Hill Country,” which received a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album. For “Benton County Relic,” produced by Single Lock Records, Burnside steps out from behind the drums, choosing to explore both the electric and acoustic guitar. In the process of creating his newest album, Cedric and his band recorded 26 tracks in only two days, selecting the best from among the list.
“This album is definitely more different from anything I have ever written or recorded in the past,” Burnside tells Billboard. “Not many people have heard me play the electric guitar, let alone the guitar in general. As long as I am able to play music I will stay true to the foundation that was laid by the legends of Mississippi Hill Country Blues, especially my Big Daddy, but this album is the beginning of a testament of what Mississippi Hill Country Blues feels like in my heart. That is where my style comes from and my style of playing is just that — my style, and I’m going to keep it pushing.”
We’ve partnered with Cedric and Single Lock to create two t-shirt designs inspired by Cedric’s album artwork. The Ringer Tees are available in Black and White in our lightweight organic cotton with a hand painted design.
We had the chance to speak with Cedric recently, and this is what he had to say:
AC: You had what might be considered an unorthodox childhood, growing up in juke joints. What do you think that gave you that other kids might have missed out on?
CB: I knew I was too young to be there but it was kind of fun. It was a different lifestyle, becoming a teenager to a man in that environment. Most kids were in bed at that time. But my uncle and I would be there (at the juke joint) and sometimes the band might not show up and we’d have to jump up and play for the people.
AC: So you knew you weren’t supposed to be there?
CB: Yeah (laughs). Especially when they started hiding us behind the beer coolers if the cops would come.
AC: When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
CB: I always knew. From when I was 6 or 7, watching my Big Daddy at house parties. I always wished I was up there playing with him. I would beat on buckets and pans but I finally built up the courage to do it and my Big Daddy really encouraged me.
AC: What did you learn from your Big Daddy that no one else could have taught you?
CB: He raised me from when I was 6 or 7 until I was old enough to move out of his house. My dad didn’t stay with us, so Big Daddy was like my dad. He fed me and raised me. I was 13 when I went on my first tour with him and he just taught me how to live life. Simple stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily think about, like how to pack a bag, how to put snacks in your bag so you don’t have to stop somewhere on the way to eat (laughs). He really taught me everything about how to be a musician.
AC: Once you started playing professionally, what was the transition like moving from the juke joint to larger venues?
CB: I did my 1st tour at 13 in Toronto, Canada, and I’d never been anywhere. I was used to the juke joint crowd. I mean, talk about having butterflies. It was scary, but I saw it was a challenge. And once I got going, it was fun. Big Daddy just told me to do what you did in the juke joint. And once I heard people hollering and whistling, I really got into it. And I just fell into it, fell into making music.
AC: You have traditionally played drums on your records. Why did you decide to step out from behind the kit for this record?
CB: I’ve been playing guitar for about 13 years and I really got serious about 6 or 7 years ago, It’s like my newfound love. I’ve developed my own style that I want people to hear. As a drummer, I’d have to play the music to the guitar player so he’d know how I wanted the music to sound. It feels good to get out from behind the drums and play the music like I wrote it. I can put my feelings out and let people know how I would do it. I want people to see a whole other Cedric Burnside.
AC: How do you celebrate your grandfather’s work, but also make your own mark on music?
CB: I have always written my own music, but I always put one of Big Daddy’s songs on every record. That way I can show people where I came from and where I got the love of music from. I like to honor his music, not try to fill his shoes. I want to make my own mark. Hopefully one day people will listen to my music the way they listen to his.
AC: You’ve said that the blues are a method of survival. What does that mean to you?
CB: My whole life has been the blues. I was born into the blues. Years ago, my Big Daddy and grandmother and mother were driving back from Mississippi and driving through West Memphis in Arkansas when my mother’s water broke, so I was born in Memphis. So in that way I was literally born into the blues. I’m just glad that they made it to the hospital so my momma didn’t have to have me in the car!
But I have been through hard times. I know it may not seem that way right now, but in my life I’ve had to find ways to survive. My Big Daddy showed us ways to take care of ourselves and was a great inspiration (for me) and an inspiration for a lot of people who live a tough lifestyle. There are people who are going through hard times, there will always be people who are going through hard times and if you can just speak the truth to them, you can reach them in some sort of way.
I think if you can explain how you live to people, you hope people can understand and see themselves in your music.
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And learn even more about Cedric.
P.S.: Cedric recently curated a special playlist of his favorite Hill Country blues tunes for Single Lock. Have a listen to “The Essential Hill Country Playlist” below: