Blues Drummer Cedric Burnside Stretches Out on the Guitar With 'Ain't Gonna Take No Mess': Premiere

Abraham Rowe
Cedric Burnside

Cedric Burnside likes to stay true to the Mississippi Hill Country Blues from which he hails. But that doesn't mean he can't do some new things within it -- as he demonstrates on his upcoming album Benton County Relic and its closing track, "Ain't Gonna Take No Mess," which premieres exclusively below.

Burnside, the award-winning grandson of the late "Big Daddy" R.L. Burnside and son of drummer Calvin Johnson, has thrived in the "family business" and has won five consecutive Blues Music Awards for Best Instrumentalist -- Drums. But on Benton County Relic he steps out more on a few fronts.

"This album is definitely more different from anything I have ever written or recorded in the past," Burnside tells Billboard. "Not many people have heard me play the electric guitar, let alone the guitar in general. As long as I am able to play music I will stay true to the foundation that was laid by the legends of Mississippi Hill Country Blues, especially my Big Daddy, but this album is the beginning of a testament of what Mississippi Hill Country Blues feels like in my heart. That is where my style comes from and my style of playing is just that -- my style, and I’m going to keep it pushing."

Burnside recorded Benton County Relic, the follow-up to 2015's Grammy Award-nominated Descendants of Hill Country by the Cedric Burnside Project, with drummer/slide guitarist Brian Jay in Jay's Brooklyn home studio. The sensibility, however, is decidedly down-home -- and, in fact, was the product of Burnside woodshedding back home in Mississippi before taking the songs north.

"As life happened, I would go outside on my front porch and use my guitar and pen to paint a picture of what was going on in my life," he says. "A friend and I came up with the name of the album, which represents where I come from both physically and musically."

That sound on Benton County Relic, due out Sept. 14, is spare, spacious and gritty but with a biting timeless flavor that makes the 12-song set more than just a slavish homage. "Ain't Gonna Take No Mess," for instance, rides a tough, muscular groove that would be a comfortable fit for Led Zeppelin or Jack White. The track is also a message for anyone who might try to place parameters on Burnside's music.

"Really that song came about when I was just messing around, singing in the studio," Burnside recalls. "Brian Jay heard it and said I really needed to do something with it and wouldn't take no for an answer. I made it about me and Hill Country Blues...I've been playing almost 30 years now. Some people think I don’t deserve to be where I am with it but it's who I am, what I am. I AM Hill Country Blues. This is my whole life, and I'm not going to listen to anyone who tells me what I can and can't do."

Burnside has shows booked into November. More dates are expected to be added as the album's release approaches.