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Singer-guitarist Cedric Burnside was born to play the blues

Singer-guitarist Cedric Burnside, who performs in Victoria this weekend, is one of the few modern-day bluesmen who was actually born into the profession.
Blues singer-guitarist Cedric Burnside will perform on Sunday, May 26, at Wicket Hall in Victoria. ROYAL RECORDS


With: Kelly Fawcett
Where: Wicket Hall, 919 Douglas St., Victoria
When: Sunday, May 26, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:15)
Tickets: $30 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121), Victoria Jazz Society office (250-388-4423), or online at; $35 at the door

For decades, blues musicians have made their living as touring entities. But few can match the backstory of singer-guitarist Cedric Burnside, one of the few modern-day bluesmen who was born into the profession.

“I’ve been on the road my whole life — literally,” Burnside, 45, told the Times Colonist. “When my mom was pregnant with me, she was on her way back to Mississippi when her water broke. So she had me right there on the road. I was born on the road, and I’m still on the road.”

Burnside grew up with his parents and siblings in a Holly Springs, Mississippi, house owned and occupied by his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, the legendary blues musician whose mainstream popularity injected new life into the genre in the early 1990s. Burnside died in 2005, but not before exposing his grandson to Hill Country blues, a hybrid that is unique to the Northern Mississippi area.

“It has its own rhythm — that’s the only way I can explain it,” Burnside said.

“It is something within itself, this music. It is very unorthodox, compared to a lot of blues you might listen to today. That gives it its own sound. You have to really be here to soak it up and understand, to watch people play it,” he said.

“You’d be amazed at how it comes out and the sound that it makes. There’s a droning sound to the beat, it’s mesmerizing.”

He is touring to support his new album, Hill Country Love, which arrived in April, and will make his Victoria debut on Sunday with a performance at Wicket Hall.

Burnside has toured other parts of Canada extensively through the years, though primarily as a drummer. He began playing the instrument at the age of six, and in 1993, when he was 13 years old, began playing drums with his grandfather (whom he refers to only as “Big Daddy” during our conversation). He eventually took over from his father, Calvin Jackson, who had been behind the kit for R.L. Burnside since 1979.

“The old-school blues, the traditional style, my Big Daddy, he just lived it,” Burnside said. “It was in his blood, his soul, his spirit. I got to witness that as a young kid. I was one of many grandchildren, but I just happened to be one of the ones that travelled with him and got to see him every day, and on the stage every night, do his thing. The aura that he had, and the response from people, it was amazing, man.”

Burnside had a front row seat as his grandfather grew into his role as an elder statesman, but the gigs were not always top tier; on many occasions, it was just the two Burnsides on stage, adapting on the fly.

Bands known to frequent the same juke joints the Burnsides were playing at the time — unregulated bars in the southeastern U.S. where jazz and blues musicians could ply their trade — were unreliable. To hear Burnside tell it, it was often the bass player who didn’t show up for gigs. The elder Burnside turned to his Hill Country roots in these instances.

“The shows still had to go on, so me and my Big Daddy would play guitar and drums,” he said.

“He knew how to play the bass string [on his guitar] so long, the rhythm was just as good without a bass.”

Burnside continues to play drums, but following the death of his grandfather, he became a full-time singer, guitarist and bandleader.

After stepping out as a solo act in 2007, two of Burnside’s albums — 2015’s Descendants of Hill Country and 2018’s Benton County Relic — earned Grammy Award nominations, followed by a Grammy Award win for 2022’s I Be Trying. In 2021, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts, the U.S. government’s highest honour for folk and traditional arts. It was a huge win for someone raised in Chulahoma, a small Mississippi town of 15,000 people, but Burnside took it all in stride.

“I grew up [knowing] I was going to play this music, and I was going to give it my all,” he said. “I don’t feel an obligation to fill anybody’s shoes or anything, I just know that I am going to play this music until I leave this world. It’s definitely not about the accolades. It’s just about the music.”

He currently lives in Ashland, Mississippi, about an hour away from his hometown. Burnside said he doesn’t see the need to move to a bigger city.

“Mississippi has what I need, what I want, as far as me living life the way I like to — simple. I grew up in the country. I can always be inspired walking through the woods, listening to the birds. It has some kind of spiritual energy that I love. It’s hard to leave.”

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