cedric burnside talks the vitality of the blues and shares latest single “step in”

April 23, 2021
535 Picks

Where far too many artists treat the blues as a historical artifact, Cedric Burnside knows that the sound is eternal. And he should, as the grandchild of blues legend R.L. Burnside and the son of iconic drummer Calvin Jackson, Cedric was born into the Mississippi Hill Country blues tradition. His music has always found a way of honoring the past while looking to the future. Elements of hip-hop, punk, and whatever else he happens to be jamming out to in the moment infuse his work, creating a sound that’s both timely and timeless. His latest, “Step In” is a righteous stomp that showcases the best of what Cedric does best. We recently got a chance to talk to him about his forthcoming record I Be Trying and the importance of family, falconry, and humility.



You come from one of the storied families in blues, and your music is so deeply rooted in that sonic tradition, how do you engage with your family legacy?

The way I engage with my family legacy is that I play a lot with my girls… hopefully they can keep it going in some kind of way.  I also try to play with anyone that wants to learn my style of music.  It feels good to keep the story going.  One of the things I’m most grateful for is that I was born into this music.  It’s been in blood since I came into the world and I want to carry it as far as I can while I’m here. I don’t try to fill my Big Daddy’s shoes, because that’s impossible, but I do feel like I’m a part of this legacy and I’m going to do it til I leave this world.

Is it just taken for granted that Burnsides are going to pick up a guitar? Was there ever a moment in your life where you thought “you know what, maybe I’m gonna become an accountant? Maybe I’ll play the trumpet.” Or did you always know this was where you were meant to be?

Accounting NEVER came to mind.  I have tried to play a trumpet before… but it’s a hard damn thing to do!  Before I leave this world, I want to try to learn every instrument I can.  But I did know this was meant to be for me.  I never wanted to do anything else.

I feel like there’s so much temptation to view the blues as a historical document, not as a living tradition. How do you keep the blues alive and fresh?

Out of the 42 years I’ve been here on this earth, the blues has always kind of stuck with me.  It’s been right there with me no matter where I go, who I’m with, where I’m at mentally… so I try not to think about it too much and just live life. I just know it’s going to throw me something fresh, always… whether it’s good or bad.  I really feel that way.  Life always has a way of throwing some fresh shit at you, whether you like it or not.  So the blues will always be relevant and alive.

One of the things I love about your new stuff is the way everything you do sounds like Cedric Burnside, but it never sounds like the same song twice. When you’re writing, are you conscious of that?

I love this question.  I AM conscious of it.  And even though I’ve written some songs that kind of sound similar, when I’m writing, something in my brain always tells me to make it sound different.  It’s because I like different— different sounds and different songs.  When I hear music I’ve never heard, it’s interesting to me, so I try to do that.  I want my music to be uniquely mine.  When you hear me play, I want to leave no doubt about who it is playing.

Have you ever written a song and been like “man, this is rad, but this isn’t Cedric Burnside?” What’s a genre or sound you’ve explored on your own that folks might be surprised about?

I’ve written a few songs like that… songs where I was like, “damn!  this is nice!”… but maybe it would sound better if someone else sang it.  I’ve been through that for sure.  And this isn’t specifically music, but I’ve had a craving since the pandemic started to go outside and listen to nature.  The sound of hawks, for instance.  I love to be outside and listen to the natural world.  I know that’s probably surprising to a lot of people, but I love it.

What’s something else you listen to that would surprise people?

I listen to a lot of Daoist music.  I’ve really gotten deep into that world lately.

What music do you listen to to access joy?

I listen to a lot of old school funk and R&B… like Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder.  I love that style of music.  That music brings me joy.  I also listen to a little gospel here and there.

How has your study of Daoism impacted your songwriting and attitude towards music?

It has definitely changed my way of thinking and how I see things in the world today.  For my songwriting, you know, it really makes me think outside the box.  It makes me think about things I never would’ve thought about and see things I’d never seen.  My attitude towards music is about humility.  I strive to be humble and think about things before I do them.  I try to implement that spirit in my music and everyday life.  I think it’s improved my attitude a whole lot.

How has the pandemic impacted your art? Are there things you find yourself doing differently now that you want to keep up in the future?

I would like to think that the pandemic impacted my art for the better, because I got a lot of practice in, I came up with new things, new songs… and I also got into things I’ve wanted to get into for a long time— falconry, a hunting license, stuff like that.  And I’d love to keep doing those things in the future.

What are you growing right now in your garden?

There’s nothing in my garden yet.  We’ve got a few more cold nights coming, so we’ve gotta wait… but that’s coming soon.  I’m gonna have some corn, some tomatoes, jalapeño peppers… there’s gonna be some stuff out there! Purple hull peas!  I can’t even think about all of it.  I’ve got so many seeds… non-GMO… it’s gonna be something once the hot weather comes in!!!


Keep up with Cedric on Twitter @cburnside_bcr. I Be Trying drops June 25th.