Cedric Burnside was born into the blues.
“My school was a juke joint/From a kid till I was grown/And blues is really/All I ever known,” Burnside sings on the final track, “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” from his new album, “Benton County Relic.”
The grandson of guitarist/songwriter R.L. Burnside and son of drummer Calvin Jackson, Burnside ventured on his first tour when he was 13, playing drums for his grandfather, known as “big daddy.”
He hasn’t slowed down in the last 26 years.
On his latest album, due out Sept. 14 on Single Lock Records, Burnside steps out from behind his drum kit with an electric guitar in hand. Known mostly as the man on the kit — a seven-time Blues Music Awards best drummer of the year recipient — Burnside has recently fallen in love with his electric guitar.
He’s not new to the instrument. He’s been writing songs since he was a kid, and in recent years would step out front in live shows with an acoustic guitar. But the electric feel struck him and he sat down and wrote a batch of new songs that would eventually become “Benton County Relic.”
“I normally step out front on acoustic,” Burnside said in an interview with Do Savannah. “I’ve been doing that for a bit of good while. Now, I really got into electric here a lot more. I just wanted to do an electric album and do my own style of music. I wrote a bunch of songs, hoping people will like them and enjoy them and relate to them.
“I wrote my first song when I was 12 years old,” he continued. “I’ve always been writing songs. I used to have to sound out my music to people. They didn’t even know what I was talking about or what key I was in. Hell, I didn’t know what key I was in. As I started playing more guitar, guitar became my newfound love. I started writing more songs with the guitar. Instead of sounding out the music with my mouth to other people, I wanted to start playing it. Just play it my way.
"I got a different style than anybody that I know who plays the hill-country blues. I want people to hear my way of writing music and lyrics as opposed to letting someone else write it for me.”
Burnside stays true to the hill-country blues, the staple of his pedigree, on “Benton County Relic,” writing about the hardships of growing up poor, death in his family and lighter jaunts about chasing a new lover and staying cool. It’s low-down, dirty hill blues at its best, and Burnside wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I got asked the question a couple times: Am I trying to fill my big daddy’s shoes, or am I trying to fill Junior Kimbrough's shoes,” Burnside said. “I really think that’s impossible. What I will do is keep this music alive and let the people know where I got it from and where it came from. That’s just what I try to do because I think that’s impossible. I just keep writing this music and keep playing this music. I just want people to know where I got it from. I love it, man. It’s all I know. It’s my heart and soul.”
Hailing from Holly Springs, Miss., Burnside has seen music take him much further than he ever anticipated. After years of touring with his grandfather in his teens, Burnside got tapped to play with greats like T-Model Ford, Paul Wine Jones, Robert Belford, Othar Turner, North Mississippi Allstars, Widespread Panic, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Jimmy Buffett and Black Joe Lewis, to name a few.
His last album, “Descendants of Hill Country”— released under the moniker Cedric Burnside Project — was nominated for a Grammy Award for best blues album in 2015.
“I have a very musical family,” Burnside said. “My big daddy and big mommy had 13 children. Five out of the seven boys they had played guitar. One of my favorite uncles, David Burnside, taught me just about everything I know in standard guitar. I piddled around a lot with him on guitar. My big daddy was the backbone of all of that. I didn’t have the slightest idea that music would take me as far as it has. I am very happy for it, thank God for everything and R.L. Burnside.”
Burnside returns to Savannah and The Jinx on Aug. 17. He last played The Jinx with the Cedric Burnside Project in 2014 before an appearance at Revival Fest. Most recently, he played the Roasting Room Lounge & Listening Room in Bluffton in 2017.
For this tour, Burnside is playing with guitarist and drummer Brian Jay, with whom he recorded the new album. The two will trade instruments through the show and will play the new album and covers from big daddy and others.