Making Big Daddy Proud

Cedric Burnside carries on a family tradition of Mississippi Hill Country Blues

Aug 13, 2014 at 9:46 am
click to enlarge Cedric Burnside Project
Cedric Burnside Project

Cedric Burnside learned how to play the Blues at the side of his legendary grandfather, R.L. Burnside.

In 2006, Cedric popped up on my musical radar in a powerful fashion when the album The Record by The Burnside Exploration came out, consisting of Cedric on drums and his uncle Garry Burnside on guitar. The project was a fiery combination of funky beats and souped-up electric Blues guitar that blew the mind of everyone I could get to listen to it.

Since then, Cedric has gone on to win four Blues Music Awards for Best Instrumentalist: Drummer, including this year. His current band is the Cedric Burnside Project, featuring guitarist Trent Ayers. The duo’s latest album is Hear Me When I Say.

Though his father was a musician, it was R.L. who raised Cedric and taught him the music, which is why Cedric refers to him as “Big Daddy.”

“I always played from when I was about 6 or 7 years old, piddlin’ around at my granddad’s house and then piddlin’ in the juke joints when I was about 10 or 11, and then I went on my first professional tour with my granddad at age 13 and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Cedric says. “For over 20 years I have been doing this, and I thank God for all of it. Growing up in the musical Burnside family, it’s naturally in my blood, and I thank God and R.L. Burnside for that. It was something I wanted.”

Cedric cut his teeth as a kid when he began to play the drums in front of friends and family at local get-togethers.

“My Big Daddy and my uncles used to have house parties on the front porch just about every week when it didn’t rain, and all of these friends would come around from close by and sit around and drink a little moonshine and listen at the Blues,” Cedric says. “So I’d sit there and look at my dad beat the drums and I’d say to myself as a young kid, ‘I really want to do that.’ I built up the courage when I was about 7 or 8 years old to jump up on the drums without thinking about it. ‘Check out this young kid. If he keeps on drumming, he’s going to be good.’ It broke the ice, and I kept on doing it.”

While Cedric tries to carry on the Blues tradition of his grandfather, his own music has a funky edge to it that keeps a Hendrix-esque groove front-and-center at times. His run of drumming awards is because he is capable of playing with varied dynamics, creating a soulful, brushy sound on the skins without using brushes.

“Growing up on the drums, I never played with a brush,” Cedric says. “If I wanted to play soft, I had to use sticks to do that. I had to learn ways to break it down with sticks, and I guess I got hip to a way of doing it. When I first started to sing behind the drums, it was very hard and it took me a while to get the hang of it. But, once I got it, it became natural. Now, I don’t even think about it.”

For many years, Cedric traveled the world, performing with his mentor/granddad. As one can imagine, he learned a lot from that time on the road with R.L. before his death in 2005.

“Everything that I know really came from my Big Daddy in some kind of way,” Cedric says. “(Even) from knowing how to pack my bags to go on a trip. I lived with him young, from when I was 6 or 7 years old until I was old enough to move out on my own. So I tend to do things like him. My mom and my uncles were like, ‘Man, you’re just like daddy doing that.’ Walking around a person a long time, pretty much all of your life, that is all you know. You tend to talk like him and do things like him. I like to think I play my music pretty close to how he wrote his music. I talk about the things I’ve been through, the things my family has been through, life’s struggles and good times as well. I learned all of that from him.”

CEDRIC BURNSIDE PROJECT performs Wednesday at Southgate House Revival with Greg Schaber and John Ford. Tickets/more info: