Celebrating the Legacy of Junior Kimbrough in Holly Springs


Marshall County, Mississippi is recognized as the home of the Hill Country blues, and the home of its two greatest exponents, Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside. So it was entirely fitting that this year, one of Junior’s sons, Robert Kimbrough, put together an event to celebrate the life and legacy of his father, the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Blues Festival. Over several days, the event featured an exhibition of photographs at Rust College in Holly Springs, a guitar workshop, a jam session and a Sunday afternoon concert on an outdoor stage adjacent to the old VFW Hut on West Valley Avenue. On Mother’s Day afternoon, with impeccable weather, a crowd gathered to enjoy authentic Hill Country blues from Robert Kimbrough Sr. and the Blues Connection, Little Joe Ayers (who had played with Junior), Dan Russell, Memphis Gold, Cameron Kimbrough, Leo Bud Welch, R. L. Boyce with Carlos Elliot Jr and Lightnin Malcolm, and the Kimbrough Brothers, featuring Robert, Kinney and David Kimbrough. Young drummer and guitarist Cameron Kimbrough is a grandson of Junior and son of drummer Kinney Kimbrough, and was especially impressive on drums with Memphis Gold and Leo Bud Welch. Altogether, it was an amazing day of some of the best blues Mississippi has to offer.










Blues In The Alley At A Crossroads?

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Marshall County, Mississippi and its county seat of Holly Springs are ground zero when it comes to the subgenre known as Hill Country blues. After all, the style’s two greatest stars, Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside were from the county, and largely pursued their music careers there for the better part of their lives. As such, there is potential for blues tourism in Holly Springs, and the powers that be there have been slowly attempting to capitalize on it, sponsoring a weekly summer event during the months of July and August on Thursday nights called Blues in the Alley. On previous years, this event has showcased a lot of local and regional talent, including R. L. Burnside’s sons Duwayne and Garry, and Junior Kimbrough’s sons David and Robert, as well as Little Joe Ayers, and other blues musicians steeped in the Hill Country style. A stage is set up on the courthouse square, and on average, several hundred people show up to dance, party and enjoy the music.
Unfortunately, this year was different. When the event kicked off on June 30, Potts Camp legend Kenny Brown was on stage, and he had invited his friend Duwayne Burnside to perform as well.A crowd of several hundred people turned out to enjoy the kickoff, which was capped by a fireworks display. A week or two later, Lightning Malcolm, also familiar to Hill Country fans was the featured artist. But sadly, that was as good as it would get this year. As the summer stretched on, it became apparent that the festival organizers did not intend to book Duwayne or Garry Burnside (Duwayne ultimately appeared at Foxfire), nor Cedric Burnside (who played at New Albany’s Park on the River on July 2), nor David or Robert Kimbrough (Robert played a Sunday evening at Foxfire later in the summer), nor Little Joe Ayers. In fact, as the festival booked unknown bands like the Around The Corner Band, and out-of-town groups like the Juke Joint Three, something even more disturbing became apparent. For the most part, this year’s Blues In The Alley was booking only white artists. In fact, by the time the festival ended on September 1 with Gerod Rayborn, as best I could determine, only two Black artists had been featured all summer, and one of them, Oxford’s Cassie Bonner, is a singer/songwriter and not a blues artist at all. Ultimately, the programming choices affected attendance, which was way down, and skewed the crowds that did show up racially, with far fewer Blacks choosing to attend the weekly event. And this was all the more noticeable, as Holly Springs and Marshall County have a large Black majority. Sadly, it seems there is no way this was coincidental. Local Marshall County artists that are world-famous were passed over in favor of unknown (but white) bands from somewhere else. Although I asked a number of my friends in Holly Springs if they had heard any reason for the drastic change in booking policy, no justification for the change was ever readily forthcoming.
Ultimately, if Holly Springs wants to capitalize on its blues legacy as Clarksdale has managed to do, it must choose to become far less race-conscious as a town. The organizers of Blues in the Alley must understand that the Kimbrough and Burnside names are known all over the world, and that these are the artists that need to be booked if the goal is to get people to visit Holly Springs from other states or other countries. There’s nothing wrong with booking highly-talented white blues artists with impeccable Hill Country credentials like Lightning Malcolm, Kenny Brown or Eric Deaton. But Holly Springs and Marshall County are predominantly-Black, and Blues in the Alley should offer something for the Black majority as well…particularly if public funds are being expended. Otherwise, there may eventually not be a Blues in the Alley at all.

Closing Out The Blues In The Alley Series With Gerod Rayborn

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Although this year’s Blues In The Alley line-up of performers was largely disappointing, to say the least, the weekly summer concert series in Holly Springs ended on a high note last Thursday night with Memphis southern soul artist Gerod Rayborn, who is also president of the Beale Street Corvette Club. Needless to say, many of his club members came to the square in Holly Springs with their beautiful cars, and a significantly larger crowd showed up than what I had seen on previous weeks. The crowd was also more exuberant, with a lot more dancing and jooking, and it almost seemed like the vibe from previous years of the event. After a brief intermission, then another blues band from Memphis took the stage, Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis, and the crowd partied long past the usual ending time of 10 PM. Here’s hoping that the event organizers will book more of these kind of artists next year.

Duwayne Burnside Live at Foxfire Ranch

Duwayne Burnside Live at Foxfire Ranch / Google Photos

To be one of the greatest living blues guitarists, Duwayne Burnside doesn’t get booked nearly often enough, so any opportunity to see him play live should be taken advantage of. And there are few venues more conducive to the blues than Bill Hollowell’s Foxfire Ranch at Waterford, Mississippi, where, every Sunday during the warm weather months, the best blues artists from the Hill Country perform in a homey, intimate setting. There’s no backstage area, no green rooms or dressing rooms, no fence in front of the stage. Performers and their fans are free to interact, and dancers have plenty of room to jook to the music.
Duwayne is perfectly at home in this kind of setting. His friends and family often come with him, and he banters with the crowd between songs as if he’s been knowing them all his life. He is equally at home with the repertoires of his father R. L. Burnside, and the other great legend of Hill Country blues, Junior Kimbrough, and when he launches into any blues tune, his face breaks into a smile with the sheer joy of invention and creation. On the more rocking tunes, such as “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line”, the open space in front of the stage fills up quickly with dancers, and Duwayne calls a few guest singers and musicians to the stage. But the night belongs to him, and when he begins to give out from fatigue, it is nearly 10 PM. The crowd begins to wander away, just as the rainstorms break out in earnest.

Celebrating The Hill Country Blues Every Thursday At Holly Springs

First Blues In The Alley 2016, Holly Springs MS / Google Photos

Clarksdale has become justifiably famous as the destination to hear authentic Delta blues, but Holly Springs, to the east in the Hill Country region of Mississippi, is the center of the lesser-known Hill Country style of blues. Despite some antebellum homes, Holly Springs has not had tourism to the same extent as Clarksdale, but fans of the late Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside know about the place and occasionally make their way there for a Hill Country blues experience. Toward that end, Holly Springs sponsors a weekly concert on the courthouse square called Blues In The Alley, which is held every Thursday night from 7-10 PM from July through September. The “Alley” referred to is the Black business district along North Center Street leading northward from the Square toward the Rust College campus. Each week features great blues and soul, plenty of food trucks and lots of fun. On the first event of the year, the featured artist was the Kenny Brown Band, featuring blues legend Duwayne Burnside as a special guest. After several sets of great blues, there was a fireworks display to celebrate the upcoming 4th of July.

Juke Joint Fest: Cedric Burnside & Trenton Ayers

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

This year’s Juke Joint Fest culminated with a late Saturday evening show at the Delta Theatre featuring Cedric Burnside and Trenton Ayers. Both these young men come from families with a long history of involvement in the Hill Country blues. Cedric is a grandson of the late R. L. Burnside, and son of drummer Calvin Jackson, who played in the Sound Machine Band, and Trenton Ayers is the son of Holly Springs bluesman Little Joe Ayers. Their performance on this occasion was outstanding, culminating in a near-perfect reading of the late Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me In The City.” It was a great way to close out this year’s festival.

Juke Joint Fest: Robert Kimbrough Sr.

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Although Clarksdale is in the Delta, visitors to the Juke Joint Fest love some Hill Country blues as well, and the Robert Kimbrough Blues Connection band is popular with the fans. Robert is one of the sons of the late Junior Kimbrough, who together with R. L. Burnside helped define the style known as Hill Country blues. Besides annual appearances at Juke Joint Fest, Robert Kimbrough performs frequently in and around Holly Springs in Marshall County.

Preserving the Hill Country Blues Tradition: Duwayne Burnside Live in Holly Springs

001 Holly Springs002 The Square003 JB's on the Square004 The Square005 JB's on the Square006 The Square007 Blues in the Alley008 Marshall County Courthouse009 Blues in the Alley010 Blues in the Alley011 Blues in the Alley012 Blues in the Alley013 Blues in the Alley014 Blues in the Alley015 Blues in the Alley016 Blues in the Alley017 Blues in the Alley018 Blues in the Alley019 Blues in the Alley020 Funnel Cakes021 Blues in the Alley022 Duwayne Burnside023 Blues in the Alley024 Duwayne Burnside Band025 Duwayne Burnside Band026 Duwayne Burnside Band027 Duwayne Burnside Band028 Duwayne Burnside Band029 Duwayne Burnside Band030 Duwayne Burnside Band031 Duwayne Burnside032 Duwayne Burnside038 Duwayne Burnside Band039 Duwayne Burnside Band040 Duwayne Burnside Band041 Duwayne Burnside Band042 Duwayne Burnside Band043 Duwayne Burnside044 Duwayne Burnside045 Duwayne Burnside Band046 Blues in the Alley049 Duwayne Burnside Band1744 Holly Springs Sunset1746 Marshall County Courthouse1748 Blues in the Alley1749 Duwayne Burnside1751 Blues in the Alley1754 Duwayne and Garry Burnside1756 Duwayne Burnside Band1745 Marshall County Courthouse1752 Duwayne Burnside
Think of Mississippi Blues and you are likely to think of the Delta. The long highways and crossroads, the endless flat land, broken only by the occasional bayou, small towns, juke joints and Robert Johnson. But there was also blues in Northeast Mississippi, the Hill Country, particularly in Marshall County, and the style of blues in that region was an especially primitive and basic form of the music that perhaps has more in common with the music of West Africa than any other African-American music form. Hill Country blues is based around guitar drones and repetitive patterns that seem to almost induce trance. Unlike the Delta blues, Hill Country blues remained largely unknown until the late 1960’s, with some awareness coming through the rediscovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell in Como. The efforts of George Mitchell and Dr. David Evans to make field recordings led directly to the discovery of the two great figures of Hill Country blues, Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, both from Marshall County, whose records in the 1990’s made Hill County blues familiar to people all over their world. Since their deaths, their children have endeavored to continue the tradition, and so there is a growing interest in Holly Springs for blues tourism. Every Thursday night, from July through the end of September, there is live blues on an outdoor stage on the Marshall County Courthouse square. It is usually well-attended each week, but all the more so when one of the county’s favorite sons is appearing, such as guitarist Duwayne Burnside. On this particular night, Duwayne was joined by his brother Garry Burnside on bass, and by his nephew Cedric Burnside on the drums, and they proceeded to give the audience a musical history of the blues, venturing into any number of different styles, and covers from as diverse a collective as R. L. Burnside, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, B. B. King and Tyrone Davis. Duwayne has always been one of the great living blues guitarists, but over the last two months or so, he seems to be hitting a new stride, playing some of the best music of his life. And to watch his face while on stage is to see the sheer joy of creation in progress.









Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough and Garry Burnside Live at Holly Springs

010 Cu-Man's011 Holly Springs012 Marshall County Courthouse013 Holly Springs014 Holly Springs015 Duwayne Burnside and Son016 Duwayne Burnside and Son017 Cameron Kimbrough, Kenny Brown & Garry Burnside018 Marshall County Courthouse019 Duwayne Burnside and Friend020 North Center Street021 North Center Street022 Blues in the Alley023 Duwayne Burnside and Family024 Oxford All-Stars Band025 Blues in the Alley026 Blues in the Alley027 Holly Springs Sunset028 Blues in the Alley029 Oxford All-Stars030 Blues in the Alley031 Blues in the Alley032 North Center Street033 Blues in the Alley034 Oxford All-Stars035 Oxford All-Stars036 Oxford All-Stars037 Blues in the Alley038 Blues in the Alley039 Blues in the Alley040 Oxford All-Stars041 Oxford All-Stars042 Blues in the Alley043 Oxford All-Stars044 Blues in the Alley046 Oxford All-Stars047 Oxford All-Stars048 Oxford All-Stars049 Oxford All-Stars050 Oxford All-Stars051 Oxford All-Stars052 Holly Springs Sunset #2053 Jukin'054 Blues in the Alley055 Blues in the Alley056 Kenny Brown & Cameron Kimbrough057 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside058 Cameron Kimbrough059 Kenny Brown061 Kenny Brown062 Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside063 Kenny Brown067 Blues in the Alley068 Kenny Brown069 Kenny Brown & Garry Burnside070 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside071 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside072 Blues in the Alley073 Blues in the Alley074 Kenny Brown Band075 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside076 Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside077 Kenny Brown Band078 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside079 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Garry Burnside080 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough & Duwayne Burnside081 Kenny Brown & Duwyane & Garry Burnside085 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside086 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside087 Kenny Brown, Duwayne Burnside, Kent Kimbrough & Garry Burnside088 Cameron Kimbrough, Kent Kimbrough & Garry Burnside089 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside090 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside091 Kenny Brown, Cameron Kimbrough, Kent Kimbrough & Garry Burnside092 Blues in the Alley093 Blues in the Alley094 Blues in the Alley095 Blues in the Alley1701 Oxford All-Stars1703 Oxford All-Stars1705 Oxford All-Stars1707 Kenny Brown1708 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside1709 Kenny Brown & Duwayne Burnside
Going the Old Hudsonville Road from Hudsonville to Holly Springs proved to be a mistake, because more than half the distance between the two communities was gravel, but the road did take me into a neighborhood of Holly Springs that I had never seen before, an area to the east of the Rust College campus where there were several churches, a Roman Catholic school and a juke joint called Cu-Man’s. But for some reason, the crowd on the square on this particular Thursday was far less than it had been the last time I went a couple of weeks before. Through an error, the people in charge of the weekly event had booked two different bands for the same time slot, so the Oxford All-Stars opened up the evening, playing a lot of Motown and Memphis classics, and a couple of blues, and then they were followed by Hill Country veteran Kenny Brown, with Cameron Kimbrough (son of Kinney Kimbrough and grandson of Junior) on drums, and Garry Burnside ( son of R. L.) on bass. After a few songs, they were joined on stage by Garry’s brother Duwayne Burnside, who did several of the Hill Country classics with the band. As the temperatures cooled off, the crowd around the square grew larger, and the final song featured Cameron’s dad Kent “Kinney” Kimbrough on drums.







The Cassie Bonner Band on the Square in Holly Springs

001 Holly Springs002 Holly Springs003 Holly Springs004 Marshall County Courthouse005 Marshall County Courthouse006 Holly Springs007 Marshall County Courthouse009 Holly Springs010 Holly Springs011 Marshall County Courthouse012 Aikei Pro's Record Shop013 Holly Springs014 Holly Springs015 Holly Springs016 Hill Country Blues017 Holly Springs018 Holly Springs019 Holly Springs020 Holly Springs021 Holly Springs022 Holly Springs023 Holly Springs024 Holly Springs025 Holly Springs026 Holly Springs027 Holly Springs028 Cassie Bonner Band030 Holly Springs031 Holly Springs032 Holly Springs033 Holly Springs034 Holly Springs036 Holly Springs038 Cassie Bonner's Drummer039 Cassie Bonner's Drummer042 Cassie Bonner's Drummer043 Cassie Bonner Band044 Cassie Bonner Band045 Cassie Bonner046 Cassie Bonner Band047 Cassie Bonner Band048 Cassie Bonner049 Holly Springs051 Wobble, Baby, Wobble052 Wobble, Baby, Wobble053 Cassie Bonner Band054 Holly Springs055 Holly Springs056 Cassie Bonner Band057 Holly Springs058 Holly Springs059 Holly Springs060 Highway 7 & 4061 Holly Springs063 Little Joe Ayers065 Holly Springs066 Holly Springs067 Holly Springs068 Cassie Bonner Band069 Cassie Bonner Band070 Cassie Bonner Band071 Cassie Bonner Band072 Cassie Bonner Band073 Cassie Bonner Band074 Holly Springs075 Cassie Bonner Band076 Cassie Bonner Band077 Cassie Bonner Band078 Cassie Bonner Band079 Cassie Bonner Band080 Cassie Bonner Band084 Holly Springs086 Holly Springs087 Holly Springs088 Holly Springs089 Cassie Bonner Band090 Cassie Bonner Band091 Cassie Bonner Band092 Cassie Bonner Band093 Cassie Bonner Band094 Cassie Bonner Band095 Cassie Bonner Band097 Holly Springs098 Holly Springs099 Future Attractions1565 The Smiling Phoenix1568 Holly Springs1570 JB's On The Square1572 Holly Springs1574 Holly Springs1575 Marshall County Courthouse1576 Marshall County Courthouse1578 Holly Springs1579 Cassie Bonner Band1581 Cassie Bonner's Drummer1583 Cassie Bonner Band1585 Wobble, Baby, Wobble1587 Cassie Bonner Band1589 Cassie Bonner Band1591 Holly Springs1592 Holly Springs1596 Cassie Bonner Band1599 Cassie Bonner Band
Although the Delta of Mississippi is known as “The Land Where Blues Began”, the area to the east known as the Hill Country produced a unique style of blues that has become famous around the world. This subgenre of blues was especially prevalent in Marshall and Benton Counties, so it’s not surprising that Holly Springs, the county seat of Marshall County, is a town that emphasizes its blues heritage. The county was home to Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, and each Thursday night during the summer, Holly Springs sponsors a weekly live music concert called Blues in the Alley, which is held directly on the courthouse square. On July 9, the featured artist was the Cassie Bonner Band, a group from Oxford that I was not familiar with. Cassie Bonner proved to be a keyboard player and a singer, and while the group’s style was more neb-soul than blues, I was quite impressed with them, particularly the young drummer. There were also food vendors and a DJ, and a crowd of several hundred people, as well as a number of motorcyclists, and a camera crew filming a documentary about Holly Springs and David Caldwell, the owner of Aikei Pro’s Record Shop. I also ran into Hill Country Blues legend Little Joe Ayers on the square as well.

Keep up with Cassie Bonner:
https://www.facebook.com/cassie.bonner.9
https://www.facebook.com/cassie.bonner.33

https://myspace.com/cassiebonnersoul