When you first hear the first few songs on Lighnin' Malcolm & Cedric Burnside's 2 Man Wrecking Crew, you just can't believe it's just two guys playing live in the studio. But working with legendary producer David Z (Jonny Lang, Etta James, Prince), Malcolm and Burnside nailed fourteen tunes in just three days of work - an astoundingly short period at a time when many bands spend months just to perfect a lousy guitar solo.
Rocks Off caught up with Burnside over the phone from his Hollis Plains, Mississippi, home. Over a 20-minute conversation, he told us about his grandfather, the origins of his duo with Malcolm, their music and the fact that - unlike many of his fellow blues musicians - he doesn't have much of a relationship with the bottle.
"Goin' Down South," Deep Blues Festival, Lake Elmo, Minn., July 2008
Rocks Off: How did you and Lightnin' Malcolm start playing together?
Cedric Burnside: Well, I been knowing Malcolm for quite a long time, probably nine, ten years - we've been playing together off and on since. Malcolm used to stay in several places before, and me and my granddad [the late R.L. Burnside] used to travel and we'd see Malcolm in the audience - we might be in California, in LA, we'd go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we'd look up and there was Malcolm in the audience - he practically followed us around and eventually he made his way to the Juke Joint in Mississippi, and we've been close to each other ever since, you know.
RO: And when did you decide to start the duo?
CB: Well, we had a band we played in called Burnside Exploration, and Malcolm played bass in this band for about two and a half years, and he started doing a solo thing on his own, and about two or three years ago me and Malcolm got together as a duo and made our first CD called Juke Joint Duo and we just did this second CD four months ago and that's been real good - we'll do it until we can't do it no more.
RO: Your grandfather (above) inspired a lot of your playing, yes?
CB: Oh, yeah - I grew up with my granddad, and stayed with him almost all my life until I was 18 or 19 years old, you know? Just growing up as a little kid, like 6, 7 years old, we didn't have a radio around the house, and my granddad and some of his friends used to just come around on the weekend and set up the equipment - they used to come just about every other weekend and and all of us grandkids would just kick up dust, you know? This was one of the first music I ever heard, I grew up with this music.
RO: Why did you choose to play the drums?
That was something I always wanted to play, I always beat on buckets and tables around home, driving my mom and dad crazy, but my dad plays the drums too, and he kinda knew was I was going through 'cause he went through the same stuff, he said, 'Man, I did the same thing and I drove my mom and dad crazy' (laughs).
When they were having house parties and things, I would just get up on the drums and do my best, and that's what I've been doing ever since, and I never thought the drums would take me as far as they have, I'm glad they did, and I thank God for that - God and Big Daddy - if it weren't for him, there would be no me - I thank him for everything, and I miss him a whole lot.
RO: Was it a conscious decision to play as a duo, without a bass player?
CB: We chose to play as a duo - we practice a lot, and I guess my foot on the kick pedal, and Malcolm playing a lot more bass strings than any other guitarist you'll probably hear, and through practice we kind of make it blend, and it's good and everywhere we play people seem to like it, though some will be like, 'Hey, man, y'all don't have a bass player?' before we start our show, and we'd be like 'no, we don't have a bass player,' and they can't believe it (laughs).
But when we get done, they'll come up to us and say, 'Man, I know I asked you guys about a bass player, but you guys don't need a bass player.' But we've been doing it just like that for a while, and we enjoy it and the people enjoy it and as long as we keep enjoying it we are gonna keep on doing this, you know?
RO: When I looked on the credits on the CD and saw that there was no bass player, I was quite surprised - you sound like you have one.
CB: We've been playing as a duo for about two or three years, and and we went into one of the best studios in Nashville - one of the best I have ever been in my life, I think that had a lot to do with it too. The record company wanted to play around with it, add a few background vocals just to see how it would sound, and it turned out real good.
As for our sound, Malcolm normally plays through two amps - he has a bass amp and he has a lead guitar amp. So he turns the bass amp up a little bit just to bring up the bass strings on the guitar,so that's pretty much all we do with the guitar and the drums, but his bass amp and my foot pedal, it just makes enough bass, so we don't need a bass player.
RO: I read in various articles that you don't drink - isn't that strange coming from a blues musician?
CB: No, man, I get that a lot, man (laughs). They say, 'You're a bluesman, you don't drink at all!' But really I drink occasionally - every now and then I might have a beer, with friends who I haven't seen in a while, but I don't do much drinking, never have man.
"R.L. Burnside," Blues on Halstead, Chicago, July 2008
RO: Does that come from your upbringing?
CB: Well, no (laughs). My whole family just about did a whole lot of drinking. Both of my uncles, they love it, and my granddad, he loved to drink - that was his thing. But me, I just have never been too fond of drinking, it's not something I wanted to do.
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RO: You've played in Houston before - how do you like the audiences here?
Me and Malcolm played Austin, Houston and Dallas - I used to play a whole lot in the area with my granddad, but me and Malcolm flew out there for the first time about three or four months ago, and it was real nice - and I'm looking forward to this time, too. - Ernest Barteldes
8 p.m. tonight at House of Blues (downstairs), 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5237 or www.hob.com/houston.