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Photo: Jim Arbogast

Cedric Burnside: the Proud, but humble Torchbearer of Hill Country Blues

Story: Dave Gil de Rubio

Legacy. It’s a linchpin of what causes the blues to be such a vibrant and vital musical genre and a big part of the spirit of the strain that wends its way out of region that is the Mississippi Delta. A major torchbearer of this sound and tradition is Cedric Burnside, progeny of storied guitar-playing singer-songwriter R.L. Burnside, the latter of who passed on in 2005. For the late blues giant whose family lovingly called him Big Daddy, grandson Cedric has made a name for himself as a drummer and guitarist whose 2021 outing, I Be Trying, earned him his third Grammy nomination and first win for Best Traditional Blues Album.


But rather than rest on his laurels, the 45-year-old Burnside recently released Hill Country Love, a 14-song collection banged out over the span of two days. Helping out with the heavy lifting was childhood friend Luther Dickinson (co-founder of the North Mississippi Allstars and son of legendary Memphis producer/musician Jim Dickinson). Burnside was thrilled to work with Dickinson on this no-frills affair that benefitted from a stripped-down sound of slide guitar, harp and a minimal groove juiced along by the acoustics of a building the former purchased that was slated to be a juke joint.

“I have to say one of my favorite parts of this album was working with my brother from another mother—Luther Dickinson,” Burnside explained. “We were on ‘The Voices of Mississippi Tour’ and I had bought this building. Even though it needed a lot of work and it didn’t work out, I got a chance to play my guitar in there and listened to the acoustics, which sounded awesome. I mentioned that to Luther on the road. I didn’t think about recording this album in that building until he said something about it. When he said that if it sounded that good, why don’t we record in there, I decided we should do that. The sound was great and it was just an all-around great thing.”

A humble and faithful man, Burnside oozes gratitude, be it for the life lessons his Big Daddy taught him or having the privilege to record this latest batch of songs, which were originally recorded at the end of 2021 before he won his Grammy. 


Photo: Lindsey Byrnes

“I always say to myself that the universe is always going to throw you something to write about, whether that’s good or bad,” he said. “I’ve been living life and over these past few years, ever since the pandemic, life has been very interesting. I’d written most of these songs before I recorded the album and created one in the studio. It just come to me—feelings that I’ve had and I’m sure other people can relate to them and it was the song "Closer." It’s just about being in the world and getting your faith tested all over the place and every way. I was really grateful that the Lord gave me that song to put on the album and bless people too in hoping they can relate to it.”

With a ton of good mojo in his back pocket, Burnside has been bringing the blues gospel to the masses in a manner that he’s been honing ever since he started playing in local juke joints at the tender age of 10. Fans can expect more of the same when they come out to see him on this tour.

“I can tell you that we’re definitely going to bring out a bunch of energy, so be ready to kick up a little dust and dance a little bit,” Burnside said with a laugh. “I’m going to bring the truth. I like to think my music is the truth and I like to write it according to how I live my life. I just want people to be able to relate to it. We’re definitely going to be bringing some energy and some good vibes.”

A man is only as good as his roots and with as formidable a personage as R.L. Burnside serving as a father figure and musical mentor, it’s not surprising to see the success Cedric Burnside has achieved, especially in recent years. Having been brought out on the road as a drummer for his first tour by Big Daddy when the younger Burnside was only 13, life lessons came fast and furious for him, even ones as mundane as properly packing food in your luggage while touring.


I’m going to bring the truth. I like to think my music is the truth and I like to write it according to how I live my life. I just want people to be able to relate to it.

9. Cedric Burnside - Photo Credit Jim Arbogast-web.jpg

Photo: Jim Arbogast

“I have to say that first of all, I have to give props to my Big Daddy, and of course, the Good Lord for allowing me to experience such a life,” Burnside said. “Just watching him as a kid—his overall aura was beautiful, and not just his guitar playing and singing. His aura was so great to me and to a lot of the audience. I thank him for giving me the first opportunity in life to play music. That was Toronto, Canada. It was scary and beautiful all at the same time. He just taught me everything, man. Even though my dad was his drummer, my dad wasn’t around as much when I was a kid growing up. Being with my Big Daddy—him giving me the chance to go on the road with him to play drums—I learned a lot from him. He taught me how to pack my bags and how to pack Vienna sausages and crackers in my bags. When we go overseas, a lot of places over there are closed early and you couldn’t get anything to eat until the next day. I was wondering to myself why I should do that. It wasn’t very long until I learned why. I remember him telling me all the time that I should always treat people the way I want to be treated. Little things like that always stick with me and I’m glad to be part of the Burnside family. My Big Daddy raised me as a kid and I stayed with him until I was old enough to move out on my own. That right there is just a true blessing to me and why I love and appreciate him so much.”

Not surprisingly, Big Daddy was in the younger Burnside’s head when his name was announced for that Grammy win. The idea of paying homage to your musical forefathers is one of those hallmarks of generational blues players ranging from Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Robert Cray and Buddy Guy. It’s a sentiment woven into Burnside’s character and spirit alongside this ever-present gratitude and humility. 

“When they called my name, I have to say it was a beautiful feeling Dave,” Burnside recalled. “It wasn’t just about winning the Grammy, but I saw my Big Daddy. I saw his face smiling. I saw Miss Jessie Mae Hemphill, Mr. Otha Turner, Junior Kimbrough and all those guys. They just popped in my head. As I was running up there to get that Grammy, all I could do was think that I did it. And I didn’t just do it for myself—I did it for the whole region. I did it for Hill Country. It hasn’t been done before. There have been a lot of accolades for all these old legends. I’m just grateful to be one of the grandchildren they showed the ropes to. To get the Grammy and bring it home to Mississippi—the Hill Country—it was a beautiful feeling.”

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