Wednesday, December 2, 2009
You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough
Junior Kimbrough (July 28, 1930 — January 17, 1998)Born David Kimbrough in Hudsonville, Mississippi, Kimbrough lived in the North Mississippi Hill Country around Holly Springs. He recorded for the Fat Possum Records label. He was a long-time associate of labelmate R. L. Burnside, and the Burnside and Kimbrough families often collaborated on musical projects. This relationship continues today. Rockabilly musician Charlie Feathers called Kimbrough "the beginning and end of all music." This is written on Kimbrough's tombstone outside his family's church, the Kimbrough Family Church, in Holly Springs.Kimbrough began playing guitar in his youth, and counted Lightnin' Hopkins as an early influence. In the late 1950s Kimbrough began playing in his own style, which made use of mid-tempo rhythms and a steady drone he played with his thumb on the bass strings of his guitar. His music is characterized by the tricky syncopations between his droning bass strings and his mid-range melodies. His soloing style has been described as modal and features languorous runs in the mid and upper register. The result is complex and funky, described by music critic Robert Palmer as "hypnotic."Kimbrough's music defies easy categorization. In solo and ensemble settings it is often polyrhythmic, which links it explicitly to the music of Africa. Fellow North Mississippi bluesman and former Kimbrough bassist Eric Deaton has suggested similarities between Junior Kimbrough's music and Malian bluesman Ali Farka's. In 1966 Junior Kimbrough traveled to Memphis from his home in North Mississippi and recorded for noted R&B/Gospel producer and owner of the Goldwax record label, Quinton Claunch. Claunch was a founder of Hi Records (whose entire catalog will be reissued by Fat Possum Records) and is known as the man that gave James Carr and O.V. Wright their start. Junior Kimbrough recorded one session in one afternoon at American Studios. Claunch declined to release the recordings, deeming them too country. Forty some years later, Bruce Watson of Big Legal Mess Records approached Claunch to buy the original master tapes and the rights to release the recordings made that day. These songs were released by Big Legal Mess Records in 2009 as First Recordings. Kimbrough's debut release was a cover version of Lowell Fulson's "Tramp" released as a single on independent label Philwood in 1967. On the label of the 45 Kimbrough recorded in for Philwood his name was spelled incorrectly as Junior Kimbell and the song Tramp was listed as Tram? The b-side on that single was called "You Can't Leave Me". Among his other early recordings are two duets with rockabilly legend and childhood friend Charlie Feathers in 1969. Feathers counted Kimbrough as an early influence and Kimbrough even gave Feathers some of his earliest lessons on guitar.
Kimbrough recorded very little in the 1970s, contributing an early version of "Meet Me in the City" to a European blues anthology. With his band, the Soul Blues Boys, Kimbrough recorded again in the 1980s, releasing a single in 1982 ("Keep Your Hands Off Her" b/w "I Feel Good, Little Girl"). The High Water label recorded a 1988 session with Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys, releasing it in 1997 with his 1982 single as "Do The Rump". Beginning around 1992, Kimbrough operated a juke joint known as "Junior's Place" in Chulahoma, Mississippi, which attracted visitors from around the world, including members of U2 and The Rolling Stones. Kimbrough's sons, musicians Kinney and David Malone Kimbrough (two of Kimbrough's rumored to be twenty-eight children), kept it open following his death, until it burned to the ground on April 6, 2000.
Kimbrough came to national attention in 1992 with his debut album, All Night Long. Robert Palmer produced the album for Fat Possum Records, recording it in a local church with Junior's son Kent "Kinney" Kimbrough (aka Kenny Malone) on drums and R. L. Burnside's son Garry Burnside on bass guitar. The album featured many of his most celebrated songs, including the title track, the complexly melodic "Meet Me In The City," and "You Better Run" a harrowing ballad of attempted rape. All Night Long earned near-unanimous praise from critics, receiving four stars in Rolling Stone magazine. His stock continued to rise the following year after live footage of him playing "All Night Long" in one of his juke joints appeared in the Robert Mugge directed, Robert Palmer narrated film documentary, Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads. This performance was actually recorded earlier in 1990.A second album for Fat Possum, Sad Days and Lonely Nights followed in 1994. A video for the album's title track featured Kimbrough, Garry Burnside and Kent Kimbrough playing in Kimbrough's juke joint. The last album he would record, Most Things Haven't Worked Out, appeared on Fat Possum in 1997. Following his death in 1998 in Holly Springs, Fat Possum released two posthumous compilation albums of material Kimbrough recorded in the 1990s, God Knows I Tried (1998) and Meet Me in The City (1999). A greatest hits compilation, You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough, followed in 2002.
Junior Kimbrough died of a heart attack in 1998 in Holly Springs following a stroke, at the age of 67.