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.

Celebrating Hill Country Blues at Foxfire Ranch

047 Foxfire049 Welcome To Foxfire Ranch050 The Blues Pavilion at Foxfire054 Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones055 Sweet Tones Drummer058 Foxfire Blues Festival062 Leo Bud Welch071 Little Joe Ayers074 Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry077 Duwayne Burnside079 Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry082 Foxfire Blues Fest084 Sherena Boyce089 JJ093 Duwayne Burnside098 Duwayne Burnside and Kenny Brown101 Duwayne Burnside106 Sherena Boyce108 Sherena Boyce111 Kenny Brown114 Duwayne Burnside118 JJ117 JJ121 Foxfire Blues Fest122 Foxfire Blues Fest126 Kingfish Ingram128 Foxfire Blues Fest131 Lightning Malcolm
Fans of the unique Mississippi style of blues known as Hill Country blues are of course very familiar with Marshall County, as it was the home of both Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, arguably the two most important Hill Country bluesmen. And they are probably also familiar with the Foxfire Ranch at Waterford in Marshall County, where a superb summer schedule of live blues occurs nearly every Sunday at 5 PM, under a shelter known as the Hill Country Pavilion. But this year, the Hollowell family, which owns the ranch, decided to sponsor an all-day concert of blues, and somewhat surprisingly, chose to do it in March, which is slightly earlier than the start-up of the festival season, which generally occurs in April.
Although the weather can be chilly and unpredictable in March, this year’s inaugural Foxfire Blues Festival was warm and pleasant, with plenty of sunshine. A large portable stage had been set up in the valley at the back of the large hill on which the pavilion stands, and a moderate crowd sat on blankets on the hillside, enjoying performances by Little Joe Ayers, Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones, The Duwayne Burnside Band, Kenny Brown, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Lightning Malcolm. For a first-time festival, the event was fairly well-attended, it rolled smoothly, and the crowd enjoyed a beautiful day of great music.

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 Ruins of Hudsonville

001 Hudsonville002 Hudsonville003 Hudsonville004 Hudsonville005 Hudsonville006 Hudsonville007 Hudsonville008 Hudsonville009 Hudsonville
On my way to Holly Springs, Mississippi for a blues event, I decided to travel a slightly different way in order to check out the town of Hudsonville on Highway 7, intriguing to me as it was the place where the legendary Hill Country bluesman Junior Kimbrough was from. Unfortunately, not much of Hudsonville is left. There’s one small store at a crossroads on Highway 7 outside the town, but if one follows the road to the railroad tracks, there are only ruins of a couple of buildings beside the railroad track, which is itself abandoned as well. Because the buildings are in such poor shape, it is impossible to tell what they were. One appears to have perhaps been a store, and the other, maybe a railroad building of some sort. A short distance away is one other building, in relatively good shape, which a sign says is a polling place for local elections. Other than that, there is nothing left of Hudsonville at all.

Enjoying the Hill Country Blues Legacy at Junior’s Juke Joint #2 in Holly Springs

038 Robert Kimbrough Band039 Junior's Juke Joint #2040 Junior's Juke Joint #2041 Junior's Juke Joint #2042 Junior's Juke Joint #2043 The Kimbroughs044 Junior's Juke Joint #2
I never had a chance to visit Junior Kimbrough’s legendary juke in Chulahoma, but his son David’s juke in Holly Springs is the place to check out live Hill Country blues every Sunday at 6 PM, with a band consisting of David Kimbrough and Robert Kimbrough on guitars and Kinney Kimbrough on drums. With nearby Foxfire Ranch in Waterford offering blues every Sunday at 5 PM, Sunday is definitely blues day in Marshall County. Junior’s Juke Joint #2 is located just north of the Rust College campus on Highway 7 in Holly Springs. Admission is $10.

David Kimbrough, Little Joe Ayers and Robert Kimbrough Live at The New Junior's Juke Joint #2 in Holly Springs

084 Junior's Juke Joint #2085 Junior's Juke Joint #2086 Junior's Juke Joint #2087 Junior's Juke Joint #2088 Little Joe Ayers089 Little Joe Ayers090 Little Joe Ayers091 Little Joe Ayers092 Little Joe Ayers094 Junior's Juke Joint #2095 Little Joe Ayers096 Little Joe Ayers097 Junior's Juke Joint #2098 Junior's Juke Joint #2099 Little Joe Ayers100 Junior's Juke Joint #2101 Robert Kimbrough102 Robert Kimbrough103 Robert Kimbrough104 Robert Kimbrough105 Robert Kimbrough106 Robert Kimbrough107 Robert Kimbrough108 Robert Kimbrough109 Robert Kimbrough110 Junior's Juke Joint #2111 Junior's Juke Joint #2112 Robert Kimbrough113 Junior's Juke Joint #2114 Robert Kimbrough115 Robert Kimbrough116 Robert Kimbrough117 Robert Kimbrough118 Robert Kimbrough119 Junior's Juke Joint120 David Kimbrough121 David Kimbrough122 David Kimbrough123 David Kimbrough124 David Kimbrough125 David Kimbrough126 David Kimbrough127 David Kimbrough128 David Kimbrough129 Junior's Juke Joint #2130 David Kimbrough131 Junior's Juke Joint #2132 David Kimbrough133 David Kimbrough134 Junior's Juke Joint #2135 Junior's Juke Joint #2
For many years, Hill Country bluesman Junior Kimbrough had a juke joint in rural Marshall County that was a destination for those in the know. People from all over the world made their way to the spot, where blues continued “All Night Long”, as the song said. The juke moved a couple of times over the years, then burned to the ground, and never reopened. So when I heard that Junior’s son was opening a new juke called Junior’s Juke Joint #2 near Holly Springs, I was thrilled. The new juke is much closer to town than the old ones had been, just north of the Rust College campus along Highway 7. The bright blue building was already abuzz with activity when I arrived, and I saw a number of people that had just come from the blues concert on the square, just as I had. Little Joe Ayers performed first, and as he was on stage Shannon McNally and Garry Burnside came in. Shortly thereafter, Junior Kimbrough’s son Robert Kimbrough got on stage and performed several tunes, and then the man of the evening appears, the juke’s owner himself, David Kimbrough Jr. As he performs a number of the Hill Country blues standards, his dad’s as well as R. L. Burnside’s, the floor fills up with willing dancers. When I left at midnight, things were still going strong. Junior’s Juke Joint #2 will be a must-visit attraction in Holly Springs.

Final Thursday Night Blues on the Square in Holly Springs with Brown Sugar and Shannon McNally @McNally

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Beginning in July each summer, the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi sponsors Thursday night blues concerts on the courthouse lawn in the town square. While the events do attract tourists, it’s not just a tourist-oriented event, as Marshall County is an important place in Mississippi blues history. Two of the greatest Hill County bluesmen, R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, were from Marshall County, and made their careers and reputations in the area. The county is also home to the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, held each summer in Waterford, and the county seat of Holly Springs is the location of Akei Pro’s Record Shop, a virtual blues-lover’s paradise, full of old vinyl records and some compact discs, as well as bluesman Duwayne Burnside’s local club, Alice Mae’s Cafe.
On September 25, I headed down to Holly Springs for the soft opening of a new juke joint, Junior’s Juke Joint #2, being opened north of town by David Kimbrough Jr, son of the late Junior Kimbrough. The opening date was chosen to correspond to the final Thursday night event of the year on the square, so I headed there first, and found a large crowd listening, dancing and enjoying the music of blues singer Brown Sugar and her band. After her performance, I ran across and grabbed a dinner at JB’s on the Square (good food) and then made it back in time to see indie singer Shannon McNally, who was performing with a band that included Garry Burnside (another son of R. L.’s) on guitar. North Center Street was also in a festive mood, with a large crowd outdoors, and good Southern Soul records playing in Alice Mae’s Cafe. In a large parking lot north of Akei Pro’s, there was a crowd of people hanging out and grilling food. After Shannon’s last song, there was a procession of Corvettes that came through the square, and the final Thursday night Blues on the Square event for 2014 came to a close.