Cedric Burnside had just made it back home from the road and we find him a very cool keeper, clicking into the interview vibe right away. Immediately he pays homage to his Big Daddy, (Grandpa R.L. Burnside) unabashedly. Cedric is grateful for the bloodline from which he sprang.
“My Big Daddy, R. L. Burnside, made a good name for the Burnside family as well as opening the doors for us. He and the Good Lord gave me my start and I’m happy to be a part of it.
“Muddy Waters was married to one of my Big Daddy’s first cousins. I forget her name but my Big Daddy used to tell me all the time. He was really good friends with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, though migratin’ to Chicago didn’t work out so well for him. Actually, it was pretty horrible. He lost two brothers and two uncles in Chicago in the same year. His uncles were killed while being robbed and his uncles got into fatal squabbles while gamblin’. So my Big Daddy came on back to Mississippi.”
Cedric first gigged with R.L. as a youngster and has been performing now way more than half of his soon to be 41 years of age.
“I forget the name of that first venue in Toronto, Ontario now, but Big Daddy took me on tour with him when I was 13. I know very well that my Big Daddy and folks like Junior Kimbrough, Otha Turner and Jessie Mae Hemphill paved the way for me and the Led Zepplin’s and Jack White’s of the world. I say that because I know for a fact that Jack White loves my Big Daddy and the Hill Country Blues.
I’ve got uncles, Duwayne, Daniel and Joseph Burnside that are musicians and a deceased brother Cody that rapped. My dad, Calvin Jackson was a drummer as well. As a child, I used to sit and watch my uncles play music on raggedy amps and drums. I was fascinated and wanted to do it so bad. My whole soul said, ‘You’re gonna do that.’ I knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life at a young age.
School wasn’t really good for me, cuz I was on the road so much at an early age. There’s a lot of things I missed out on. There’s a lot of history that I don’t know about. That’s why I find myself trying to read about it now. When I was on the road my teachers gave me a bunch of makeup work. I have to say though, that I wouldn’t change it for the world. I got to go places like the Coliseum in Italy, that I had read about in school. When I would return to school with pictures of Rome and Paris, my teachers were really amazed and supportive of what I was doin’.”
When asked the about the spirit as it relates to his music, Cedric Burnside takes us back to his 5 year old world at R.L. Burnside’s home.
“Again, I have to bring my Big Daddy in because growing up as a kid, at 5 or 6 years old, my Big Daddy used to throw house parties every other weekend. Me bein’ one of many grand kids sittin’ around the house, listenin’ to that music, I always knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life. The music that he played for us as kids; Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell, even though there was much more modern music available, I couldn’t help it. I just fell in love with the old school sound. I fell in love with the roots.
“That carried me a long ways and today when I write my music, I tend to think about the old school and how I grew up. So writing about things that I go through today, that my family or friends go through, I try to put it in a way that people can relate to and they too, have been there and done that. The spirit has always been in me and now I’m just not afraid to say, you know, what other people might be afraid to say in their music; good or bad. I believe part of my spirit was created from my Big Daddy. I do believe in good spirits and bad spirits, likewise good energy and bad energy
“Everyday when I wake up, I thank God for lettin’ me open my eyes. And even though I have done things that I’m not proud of in life, I believe God forgives you for it, if you seek forgiveness from your heart. Before I go on stage I take time out for 25 or 30 minutes to pray and ask God to let the Holy Spirit guide me. If my wife is with me, she’s right there. I ask him to instill in my fingers, my mouth and heart, the Holy Spirit. Now, some people think that the Blues is the Devil’s music, but as I just look back and think about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, they were goin’ through the Blues then.
“I think about slavery here in the U.S. How the slaves had masters and were beaten. How they had to pick the cotton and all of that. They were going through the Blues then. And they sang work songs, Negro spirituals and field hollers because they were going through those times. It makes me think about my Big Daddy, who used to say, ‘Blues is the roots of all music.’ That’s the way I feel.”
Cedric explained his songwriting process. “I piddle around on the piano a little bit, though I wouldn’t call myself a piano player. I mainly write about what I go through. Sometimes a word or lyric phrase might come through first and the music follows 2 or 3 months later or vice-versa. I might come up with a riff of music and the lyrics come sometime later. It’s a process and I definitely don’t try to force it. If I don’t feel the lyrics I won’t write the song. Same with the music. I won’t try to force it to fit if it doesn’t feel right to me.
“Sometimes on a long plane ride, I might listen to a little Beethoven to check out the ways that he hit the piano, the adlibs he might put in when he goes high and low. Sometimes I think about how could I incorporate that into the guitar. Beethoven is very unorthodox as is Hill Country Blues. We don’t necessarily do the 1-4-5 change pattern. We just change when we get ready.”
Asked about his gear and playing rig Cedric explains: “I play an Ibanez electric guitar and a Martin acoustic. I use an old Fender Bassman amp. I got it from my musician partner Brian Jay. My drum kit is a regular old Yamaha set. My first drum set was a Pearl. I remember going into the music store with my Big Daddy. I didn’t have but about five hundred dollars and the set cost seven hundred. My Big Daddy gave the extra two hundred so I could get it.”
Cedric has played on some legendary Sets & Sessions. “I played a bunch of times with Jessie Mae Hemphill. I remember bein’ at her house when they were settin’ up to record. It was in Como, Mississippi. I did two or three songs on the recording. Mr. Otha Turner, a great Hill Country fife player, out of the drum and fife tradition, used to give a big picnic every year. That’s how I first played with Ms. Jessie Mae Hemphill. The first time I went over there, I was about 10 or 11 years old and I was playin’ the snare drum. Ms. Jessie Mae Hemphill was a sweet lady but she didn’t play any games. She kept a .38 special in her purse. My Big Daddy told me about her grandpa, Sid Hemphill who was a great musician. That’s where she got it from.”
When the topic turns to Grammy nominations Cedric comments: “I was up against Buddy Guy this year and he won. I don’t mind. If I win one, that’ll be great. If not, it won’t change my music. I’m really in it for the music, to show people my style and where I got it from. I refuse to let my head get big and go down the road where I have to get over on somebody to make it to the next level. I’m just not that guy. There are people out there that love Hill Country Blues and then there are people who don’t understand it or care about it, but I’m still here to play this music for those who want to hear it and I’ll always be here for that.”
Discussing Mississippi then and now Cedric offers these insights.
“I know a lot of African-American musicians migrated north from the south for economic opportunity. My Big Daddy was a sharecropper. He worked for food and shelter. He didn’t work for money. And the place we stayed at wasn’t a great place at all. It was just a house with a roof on it enough to keep the rain off of us. We had cracks in the floor and walls. Now, I have been to some of the most beautiful places in the world, but nothing makes me want to leave Mississippi. I just love Mississippi. I know of the things that happened in the past. I know of the things that go on now. Despite all, it will always be home. I feel the energy in the music that comes from here all the time. It’s like when you go outside, man. Mississippi just has that energy that flows through the ground. The music and the spirit flow too. I think I will always be here.”
Mr. Cedric Burnside has played upwards of 250 gigs yearly prior to 2018. He took time off to make the critically acclaimed, Grammy nominated recording Benton County Relic. As of this writing his tour itinerary is amping back up including performance at Carnegie Hall in April of 2020. Wow!
Hill Country Blues is poppin’!
Visit Cedric’s website at: www.cedricburnside.net.