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Juke Joint Duo's deep blues roots

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-01-05


Cedric Burnside is the real deal.

The grandson of the late blues legend R. L. Burnside, Cedric began backing up his grandfather on drums at age 13, and in this way was able to see the world one stage at a time. Since then, he has drummed for a wide range of acts from Junior Kimbrough to North Mississippi Allstars and Widespread Panic. Additionally, Burnside was recently featured in the movie Black Snake Moan. The film is a tribute to his grandfather, and Burnside can be seen playing drums for Samuel L. Jackson.

Burnside, a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, says that he likes to keep it close to home when he’s writing. "I write about my life, my kids, and everyday things. I try to stick to the truth," he recalls. Burnside recently teamed up with guitarist Lightin’ Malcolm to form Juke Joint Duo, and will be playing at the Brass Rail on January 25th. Malcolm remembers the first time he heard the blues. “I was 7 or 8, and the grown folks was parked out on the road listening to music and carryin' on," he recalls. "They put on a tape called 'Muddy Waters' Greatest Hits,' and when I heard that voice shootin' out of that speaker, I was shocked. I fell in love with it, and I promised myself then and there that if I grew up to be a man, I was gonna try to do that!" Having listened to cuts from the duo’s newest album, “2 Man Wrecking Crew,” I’d say that he and Burnside got it right.

Their music is a seeming contradiction in praxis. Gritty, yet polished sounding. In-your-face but also sweet and almost tender at times, this is the kind of blues that any fan of the genre can appreciate. It also has that distinct Mississippi country blues style that made artists such as R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Mississippi Fred McDowell legends in their own time. It’s blues that you can dance to, but doesn’t force it. When the music hits, you simply have to get up and shake it.

I recently sat down with Jeff “Anderson” Anderson and Brenn Beck, co-owners of the local chapter of Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment, a collective of like-minded artists and promoters within the blues scene, and asked them about the show and what impact H. B. E. has been having on the local scene here. When I asked them about how the show came to be, I was surprised to find out that Juke Joint Duo had taken it upon themselves to contact The Brass Rail to book a date. “They contacted The Rail themselves, and Hillgrass was brought on to help promote it,” says Anderson. “We couldn’t turn it down.”

And who could? Along with T-Model Ford’s appearance earlier this year, it seems that Fort Wayne is finally on the radar and gaining some notoriety. Brenn Beck doesn’t care so much for the latter part, however. “I could care less about credibility,” he tells me. “I’m just interested in getting good bands to come here.” Anderson’s view on the subject is almost identical. “I think we’re doing a good thing,” he says, when I ask him why he works as hard as he does to promote these shows with little to no compensation on his part. “I’m not making any money. I just like putting on shows that I want to see and I think people would like.”

By the looks of it, they are doing a fine job, too. When I asked about what a typical draw is, Anderson tells me that there are almost never less than one hundred people at any given show (anyone who has ever been to a show at the Brass Rail should be impressed that they are even able to squeeze that many people in there). Often, the shows come close to, or reach, capacity. I personally recall seeing people being turned away at the T-Model Ford show because they were in danger of violating the fire code from having too many people there. These kinds of numbers in Fort Wayne, with little to no one having any previous knowledge of the acts that Anderson and Beck are bringing in, speak not only to the power of the Hillgrass Bluebilly name, but to what that name represents.

Anyone going to a H. B. E. show knows that they are in for a lively, intense, entertaining experience. Most times, it does not matter if you have heard of the band before; it’s the Hillgrass brand that is able to bring people out. When I asked Anderson why this is, he put it very succinctly for me. “Fort Wayne is starting to get to the point where they’re looking for something new. [Hillgrass] artists always bring a certain energy, and enough people have taken a risk on unknown shows that now they know that a Hillgrass show will always be good.”
After Juke Joint Duo, Anderson says that Hillgrass Bluebilly has not intention of slowing down. Aside from Burnside and Malcolm, Anderson and Beck are working on a Hillgrass Bluebilly North American tour featuring Left Lane Cruiser, Bob Log III, and Delta Head, a European blues group about to have their first tour through the U. S. They are also working on having Posessed by Paul James and Scott H. Biram come to through in the next few months. “Our goal is to have one Hillgrass show per month,” Anderson tells me.

So, if you’re looking for some great blues, make sure you check out Juke Joint Duo with openers Left Lane Cruiser on Tuesday, January 27th. The show is at the Brass Rail, and will start at 8:00pm. See you there.

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