By Bill Nevins
Cameron Kimbrough is steeped in the potent elixir of Mississippi Hill Country Blues, and he’s now sharing that powerful musical brew with Albuquerque. The guitarist-drummer-singer moved here recently, bringing deep musical cred and dedication to his art. Cam Kimbrough has begun a weekly Tuesday night open- mic residency at Boese Brewery on Gold Street, downtown Albuquerque and he’s playing gigs there and at Steelbender Brewyard, Canteen Brewing, Mineshaft Tavern and other venues, with booking support from Jams of Enchantment. He will be back at Steel Bender Brewyard Feb 28th 6-8:30
Hill country blues is the hypnotic “trance-blues” style that drives the music of The Black Keys, Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Richard Johnston, Kenny Brown and the North Mississippi All Stars. The music is featured in the classic 1991 documentary film Deep Blues. You may have heard the Hill Country blues in the soundtracks of movies Black Snake Moan and Gangs of New York.
This style has roots in West African polyrhythmic chant- song and dance which evolved via Black American fife-and-drum groups, kitchen jams and rural juke-joints on the forested Tennessee-Mississippi borderlands.
With its strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion, steady guitar riffs, few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and heavy emphasis on the groove, hill country blues was the signature style of R.L. Burnside and of Cam’s grandfather David “Junior” Kimbrough, who hosted a famous juke-joint in Chulahoma, near Holly Springs, Mississippi. Junior Kimbrough passed in 1988 and his juke, Junior’s Place, burned down in 2000, but his son Kinney and grandson Cam have kept tradition alive while opening their music to innovations.
Thus, the origins of the funky guitar-drum-harmonica style that Cam Kimbrough and Damion Pearson’s two-man band Memphissippi Sounds bring to their critically-acclaimed 2021 album Welcome to the Land (Little Village Records), which was produced by West Coast harp player Aki Kumar. Bluesman Bobby Rush coined the term ‘Memphissippi’, quipping, “Tennessee and Mississippi, when you put them all together whatcha got?”
Downbeat Magazine reporter Cree McCree praised Welcome to the Land in these terms:
“Kimbrough’s hill country drone meets Pearson’s Beale Street blues in songs infused with R&B and spiced with the poetry of straight-out-of-Memphis rap.”
Kimbrough and Pearson met in Memphis and embraced a collaborative concept for their album and in their ongoing performance tour, including recent California festivals, which will take them to Canada and Europe next year. While the album as a whole sustains a trance-inducing danceable groove, the stand-out cut is the Tupac-influenced opener “Who’s Gonna Ride,” which invokes the spirit of Rodney King and Black Lives Matter with its fiercely- repeated lyrics: “I can’t breathe-- Get cha foot off my neck, boy!”
Cam Kimbrough sat down for a December 9 chat with The Paper at X Automotive on 12th Street and Griegos, a venue which is planned to be re-purposed as home to a community arts- gathering place in the coming months.
Cam talked about what it was like growing up in North Missippi in a most-definitely- musical family.
“I was born in December, 1984, so as a little boy they let me visit the juke joint and jump around until about 9 o’clock, then us kids had to clear out. It used to be jumpin’ in there, man! And everyone was always welcome.
“A memory I have of my grandfather Junior was one night in the back room of his place he spoke to me in the Cherokee language and do know you what? I answered him back in Cherokee! But I don’t know that language, and nobody else in our family spoke it! I do know we have Cherokee ancestors. But I don’t know how I knew those words!”
Cam tells us some of his career history. “I grew up playing drums in church and with my family and later I picked up guitar and I enjoy it very much. It reminds me of my grandfather and everybody loved him!
“I started college but then in 2011 I got a call from blues superstar Lightnin’ Malcolm who asked me to go on tour with him. And what could I say? I left school. We practiced for a solid month and then we were gone touring all over the country—California, Colorado, New York City, New Jersey, North Carolina!” Cam shares some funny road- stories about drinking moonshine, shivering in Rocky Mountain winter nights and almost falling over the edge of the Grand Canyon! “Malcolm saved me that time!”
“Sometimes we played for crowds of hundreds or thousands at festivals—the best times of my life,” he recalls, adding that Lightinin’ Malcolm told Cam seriously, “’This is your life, man. If you ever quit this, it’s gonna be all over you!’ So, you know, I have stayed with it. I set up a home studio for myself in Memphis and I have kept at it ever since, even when I had other jobs going on. I walked around the streets playing acoustic, and I put up videos, and I played drums for people who asked me to. And then I met Damian just playing on Beale Street and man, we got gigs and the universe just opened up for us. Then the harmonica player Aki Kumar came along to produce our album and we recorded it in two weekends. We made up those songs in the studio!”
Cam released his own first album in 2013, the R&B/hip hop flavored Breakfast for Dinner, but it drew very limited attention. Since then, he has focused more on the bluesy essence of his music, which shines through on Welcome to the Land and in his live gigs. Cam and his wife moved to Albuquerque this summer from Memphis to take up job opportunities. Asked how he likes our desert city, Cam comments, “It’s much quieter on the streets than Memphis, which is nice in some ways, but it is also a place with a smaller, more spread- out population, so you need to get around to meet folks, which I am enjoying doing. It’s great to see the variety of cultures here, Indigenous, Hispanic, white and black folks, college students, people from other countries and continents. And I am pleasantly surprised to find fans of our kind of music here—folks who remember my grandfather! Jamming with Felix Peralta, J.D. Sipe, Richard Malcolm and other great musical folks here has been a blast! And now we’ve got the Tuesday open mic at Boese Brewing. I am loving New Mexico and I really, really want to contribute to the community here in whatever way I can. I’m just out here trying!”
Cameron Kimbrough’s webpage is https://www.kimbroughnation.com
Information on Welcome to the Land is at https://www.memphissippisounds.com
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