Cedric Burnside: “Hill country blues hardly ever uses the I-IV-V. It’s off the beaten path, it’s unorthodox, it’s unpredictable“

Cedric Burnside
(Image credit: Abraham Rowe)

Aged just 13, Cedric Burnside was immersed in playing blues music with his grandfather, aka “Big Daddy” – the legendary R.L. Burnside. 

Now commander-in-chief of the second generation of hill country blues, the younger Burnside’s latest album, I Be Trying, encapsulates the past, present and future of a whole genre in a way that only he could. 

“It’s who I am,” Cedric says. “This Hill Country Blues stuff is definitely not new to me. I was born with it in my blood.” 

I Be Trying plays as if it could have been made 50 years ago. He explains: “The old styles stuck with me – things my Grandaddy played on the porch. That old feel will always be in me.” 

But the record’s authentic sound quality is also owing to Cedric’s raw approach towards gear: “It’s not that I don’t like pedals,” he says. “It’s just that for the music I do, I haven’t really needed it. I have one pedal: a boost just to turn my volume up. I have no effects, no wah, no nothing like that. I don’t use a pick because it doesn’t feel natural.”

On an album produced with refreshing sparsity, Cedric’s idiosyncratic playing and vocals shine through, intertwining against a backdrop of mesmeric polyrhythms and a refusal of familiar progressions. He explains, “Hill country blues does not use the I-IV-V hardly ever. It’s off the beaten path, it’s unorthodox, it’s unpredictable. But it’s also hypnotic and funky and driven.”

As for guitars, Cedric is open-minded: “To be honest with you, I have no real preference as to what guitar I use as long as it sounds good.” 

On the record, we hear a Fender Stratocaster, an old Gibson (model unknown) that was hanging on the wall of the studio and a one-off Les Paul-style guitar with a solid mahogany body and P-90-esque pickups – a unique instrument made by brain-surgeon-come-luthier, Mike Aronson. 

“He found a whole piece of wood,” Cedric says, “and he just made it to my liking. I told him I really love a big neck – almost like an acoustic – so he made it with that feel.”

This carefree detachment to the tools of his trade leaves room for remembrance of where the music really comes from. Says Cedric: “I have to thank my Big Daddy for just about everything, because he opened the door for the Burnside family. It’s something I’m going to do until I leave this world and I’m honored and really proud to keep it going.” 

  • Cedric Burnside's I Be Trying (opens in new tab) is out now via Single Rock Records.

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Ellie Rogers

Since graduating from university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and GuitarWorld.com, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.