Cedric Burnside: Hard to Stay Cool
Cedric Burnside is telling a joke. Seated in the living room stage of the Luck Mansion in Nashville, the Mississippi Hill Country Blues artist seems almost to be in character as he tells the tawdry tale– perhaps drawing on the persona of his late grandfather, the iconic blues artist R.L. Burnside, who told the joke often throughout Cedric's young life.
“My music, my everything...all started with Big Daddy (R.L),” Cedric shares with a grin. “I was definitely born into this.” Indeed, Cedric was around music from the start; picking up his first pair of drumsticks at seven years old. “As a kid, watching [my family] play...it was just so amazing. And so I kind of just really looked and learned for myself – I'd mimic what I'd see them do.”
Before long Cedric, who'd already been hanging around the clubs, found himself on the stage for the first time. “At just six or seven, when Big Daddy took a break at the juke joint to go drink moonshine or smoke a little doobie, I finally got the courage one night to just jump up on the drums.” At age ten, he and his uncle Gary, then 12, became unofficial regulars at the club. “They would have to hide us behind the beer coolers when the police came. We for sure weren't supposed to be in there.”
He went on tour at age 13, backing R.L. on the drums. “I didn't have the slightest idea. I'd say 'Big Daddy, what if they don't like it?'. And he'd say, 'don't worry about it, just do it. Do what you do at the juke joints and we'll be alright.' Sure enough, that's what I did – with all these butterflies – and after the first song people were clapping their hands; they liked what they were hearing. And so those butterflies went away.”
While the butterflies were fleeting, what remains at the core of Cedric's career are tokens of his family's memory; the most apparent being not only innate talent, but also a true sense of humor. “My brother, he passed in 2012, so he was one of my biggest fans. So I always think about him when I write music. And it doesn't necessarily make me sad anymore. These days it more encourages me. It inspires me.
While flattered by similarities drawn, Cedric doesn't want to rest on comparisons – which is evident in his latest album. Benton County Relic, a soulful, slowed down collection of blues-tinged tunes with a contemporary twist, shows that Burnside has come a long way, stretching his legs and showcasing his guitar skills – a new spin for those who know him as a blues drummer. But what remains at the core of his musicality, a nod to his hill country blues roots, is his dedication to staying true to his family's musical heritage.
“Not that I'm trying to fill my family shoes, because I think that's impossible, but I felt that very special music they created. That's all I was around my whole life. That's just who and what I am. I want to make my own mark, of course, but I also want to let people know – and show people – where I got it from. I'm proud to do that, and I'm just really looking forward to the future of writing new music.”
Check out Burnside's live performance of Hard To Stay Cool from the Luck Mansion.