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Junior Kimbrough, A True Original Stayed True To The Blues' Roots

Fat Possum Records

David "Junior" Kimbrough was a throw back to a time when the Blues was raw and repetitive, and juke joints were the primary place to find it. Yet he also managed to be an innovator.

Some have called Kimbrough (July 28, 1930 – Jan. 17, 1998) one of the 4 most important Blues artists of the second half of the century, along with Son House, Bukka White and Mississippi Fred McDowell. I’ll partially accept that only if you add “traditional” to the Blues artist designation.

Junior Kimbrough joined R. L. Burnside as one of the top exponents of Mississippi Hill Country Blues and ran one of North Mississippi’s classic juke joints from the beginning of the 1990s until his death in 1998.

The music world owes a debt to Kimbrough’s sister for being a poor babysitter. She ignored her duties while a very young Junior climbed to a high shelf to grab the guitar his father had told him never to touch. The same thing happened just about every time the senior Kimbrough went out to tend his fields and he quickly became a very accomplished player.

In his late teens and early twenties, Kimbrough honed his craft in the same jukes and dance halls as R. L. Burnside. The two of them helped evolve the style now known as North Mississippi Hill Blues. It’s a style typified by repetition, modality and a primitive and hypnotic drone.

Part of the throwback aspect of Junior Kimbrough was his use of his own home to perform and to raise needed cash collecting tips and donations. This was in the manner of the 1920s and 1930s Chicago and New York ‘rent parties’ that substituted for true clubs - which few African-Americans could afford to own. Like so many such arrangements, Kimbrough’s house eventually evolved into a true juke joint, forcing him to rent a separate room to escape the chaos he’d created.

The juke joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi was named Junior’s Place, as you might expect. It became a Mecca for artists like The Rolling Stones, U2 and Sonic Youth. But it was his effect on Blues musicians that is his most important legacy. You can hear traces of Junior Kimbrough’s guitar style in the playing of people from Texas to Chicago. Mississippians are split between those who emulate Kimbrough and those who follow R. L. Burnside.

My favorites who have managed to mix the two. We’ll enjoy Junior’s Place this week on The Nine O’clock Blues.

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