Mississippi Fred McDowell was a blues musician with a distinctive style. Born in Rossville, Tennessee but finally settled in Como, Mississippi, he developed a sharp rhythm and an often single chord vamp to accompany his singing. The whole structure of his music had some kind of hypnotic effect. Despite the fact that he was covered by The Rolling Stones (You Gotta Move) and coached Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar technique, he influenced two artists of his region deeply, who led his legacy to a next level. Both Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside worked on Fred’s style and developed two different takes on it. Loose and hypnotic for Kimbrough and sharp, steady and emphasised on heavy groove for Burnside.
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Hill Country Blues is a regional style of country blues music made by the above mentioned artists, due to the fact that they lived and worked in an area of northern Mississippi on the border with Tennessee. This style emphasises heavily on strong percussive rhythm, steady guitar riffs with very few or none at all chord changes, sometimes unconventional songwriting structure but most of all massive groove. Probably due to the poor economy, it was quite common to play in a band with just one or two guitars and drums, omitting the bass guitar to avoid the expenses of an extra band member. This method of keeping expenses low, also included forming bands of family members so that the money stayed in the family. The poor structure of the two piece band, raised a few musical problems to solve, because the sound lacked in volume and there were these gaps in between the guitar riffs. In order to make the sound bigger the guitarist would crank up his amp to get as much volume and fat sound as possible. More over the use of humbucker pickups was common. The drummer had to support the heavy guitar riffing with a steady groove and fill the gaps in the guitar playing as much as he could. That need led to a quite busy style of drum playing. Performing without a bass player was not a Hill Country Blues novelty. Hound Dog Taylor used to play in the same form and for the same reasons in Chicago since the late 60s.
Calvin Jackson was R.L.Burnside’s son. A drummer who is considered an innovator of HCB style of drumming by incorporating elements of the regional Fife & Drum bands style in the blues. Calvin used the busy snare drum style of the Fife & Drum style to play around his father’s riffs. Fife & Drum was an American martial music tradition with deep British and French roots. It is often played with a lead Fife supported by a troop of deep snare drums played with excellent dexterity. The Fife & Drum snare drumming technique is characterised by very high level of stick control, and numerous rudiments. Several iconic drum technique handbooks were written based on that style of technique. Calvin’s way of drumming came out to be a steady rock style with snare drumming around the guitar riff.
Example of a Fife & Drum Band
Cedric Burnside, Calvin’s son and R.L. Burnside’s grandson, also a drummer, guitar player and singer, continued his father’s legacy by taking his technique one step further. Cedric follows his family tradition and places it in a more modern soundscape.