Cedric Burnside is the real deal. The two-time Grammy nominee still lives on several acres not far from the Holly Springs, Mississippi, home where he was raised by “Big Daddy” — his grandfather, the late singer/songwriter/guitarist R.L. Burnside. Cedric was literally born to play the blues, but if the blues has traditionally been about getting through hard times, his work offers the kind of deep baring of the soul that enables us to transcend oppression, whether in the 19th century or in the precarious present.
We caught up with him recently at the Shoals Theatre after his jaw-dropping performance at Songs of Love and the Lack Thereof, put on by our friends and neighbors at Single Lock Records. We asked him about the evening’s theme — love (and the lack thereof) — and about the South, about where he gets his inspiration, and so much more.
We started by asking where he gets his song ideas from. After all, his records blend traditional blues with original, insightful lyrics, the kind of thing that’s instantly relatable, whether it’s about an ordinary day or extraordinary passion. “Honestly, most of my songs are inspired by the trials and tribulations of my actual life,” he says. “It’s always been that way.”
Given that, we were curious how he takes those ideas — those tribulations — and turns them into gorgeous, raucous finished songs. “A lot of that is hard to explain, but I will tell you that I find it easiest to get into my flow state early in the morning,” he says.
It all makes sense. And between the now yearlong pandemic, and the three years since his last full-length album (an eternity for fans), we talked with Cedric about what’s inspiring him now. “Well, you know, we’ve been at home for awhile now,” he said. “Lately I’m finding my inspiration in the beauty of nature. Here in Mississippi, I’m surrounded by beauty.” (We can confirm that last part.)
Inevitably, the conversation spun back to his lineage — his dad was blues drummer Calvin Jackson, a gifted musician in his own right — and what it meant to be a musician from the South. “Well, to be honest, I just want to be a good human, no matter where I’m from,” he says. “I think my father and Big Daddy would feel the same. We just happen to be from the South.”
From there, the conversation spun back to that evening’s big theme. What, we asked him, has he learned about love over the years. “I’ve learned that it’s possible to love and not to love at the same time,” he told us. Something tells us that would make a good song lyrics someday.
And now, for our five lightning round questions.
1. What are you reading or listening to at the moment?
The Fundamentals of Falconry by Beebe and Webster, and Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.
2. What is a principle you try to live by?
Wu wei comes to mind whenever personal principles are mentioned to me.
3. What is one hidden talent you possess, and one hidden weakness you overcome?
Most people wouldn’t know that I’m a damn fine primitive archer. A weakness I struggle with is learning to say no.
4. How do you keep your inspiration and imagination fueled?
You know, recently I’ve gotten into microdosing.
5. Do you have a daily practice or ritual? (Is it similar to your lyrics in “Typical Day”?)
Yeah, that song says it all. Not too much has changed!