The blues, one of America’s great contributions to the arts, come in many forms. Multi-instrumentalist Cedric Burnside plays hill country blues, so named for the hill country of northern Mississippi. And he played them sure and well at Pearl Street Warehouse recently.
Hill country blues emphasizes rhythm and percussion, steady guitar riffs, few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and the groove — the “boogie.” First popularized by “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, the tradition was continued by Junior Kimbrough and Cedric’s grandfather, RL Burnside. (Cedric’s father, Calvin Johnson, also a blues musician, played drums with RL.) The North Mississippi Allstars have perhaps achieved the highest profile among hill country blues artists.
On Thursday evening, Cedric played a packed house at the Pearl Street Warehouse on DC’s Wharf. His performance was divided into three parts. First, he played solo acoustic. For the middle third of the show, he played electric guitar. In the last third of the show, Cedric played the drums.
Cedric sat down with his guitar and played a song, and then he loosened up the crowd with a joke: A young man, 22, is living at home, and his parents want him to get married. So he goes out, and he finds a girl, and he brings her home. He goes and tells his daddy, “I met a girl.” “Where is she?” “In the living room.” His daddy looks in the living room and pulls the young man aside. “Son, you can’t marry that girl. She’s your sister, but your momma don’t know that.” The next week, the young man brings home another girl. He goes and tells his daddy, “I met a girl.” “Where is she?” “In the living room.” His daddy looks in the living room and pulls the young man aside. “Son, you can’t marry that girl, either. She’s your sister, too, but your momma don’t know.” Later, the young man’s momma asks, him, “Son, what’s the matter? Didn’t you like either of them girls?” “Yes, momma, I liked them very much, but daddy said I could marry them, because they’re my sisters, but you don’t know.” And his momma says, “Son, you can marry either one of those girls. He ain’t your daddy, but he don’t know that.”
Cedric followed his joke with two of his older songs and a guitar solo from a third. He apologized for cutting it short, but he said he had to fit in everything, including the new stuff. Cedric released a new album this year, Benton County Relic. Brian J (of the Joytown Pimps) came out with an electric guitar to accompany Cedric on the slow-burning “Hard to Stay Cool.”
Stream Benton County Relic by Cedric Burnside on Spotify:
After “Hard to Stay Cool,” Cedric switched to an electric guitar, and Brian went to the drums.
A couple of songs later, Cedric played the song I found most powerful on the new record, “We Made It,” about growing up in rural Mississippi — in the 1980s. Cedric’s family didn’t have running water. He sings “didn’t have a toilet, didn’t have a bathtub, had to walk three miles, just have to water for another day.”
Cedric followed “We Made It” with “Typical Day,” a song about a typical as a musician. It turns out a musician spends a lot of their day, when they aren’t on tour, waiting for the phone to ring.
Best known as a drummer, Cedric once drummed for drummed for Jimmy Buffett and Widespread Panic. From 2010-2014, he won four consecutive Blues Music Awards as Best Drummer. And so, Cedric took over on the drumkit for the last leg of the show. During this part of the show, Cedric let Brian take over on lead vocals.
Cedric is definitely all about the music. And it’s damn fine music, too. Make sure to see him, and feel the groove!