Hill country blues

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Hill country blues (also known as North Mississippi hill country blues or North Mississippi blues) is a regional style of African American music regarded as distinct from Mississippi Delta blues. It is characterized by a strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion (including fife & drum music and the prominent use of the slide guitar), tunes built from guitar riffs, few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on the "groove" or a steady, driving rhythm (sometimes referred to as a "drone" style).[1] Mississippi Fred McDowell possessed this distinctive style that was heavier on percussive elements and African rhythms than traditional delta blues. McDowell's performances helped define the hill country blues sound, influencing later artists such as R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.[2][3][4] Other influential musicians included multi-talented Sid Hemphill, banjo player Lucius Smith, Hemphill's daughter Rosa Lee Hill and granddaughter Jessie Mae Hemphill. Fife and drum musicians Ed Young, Othar Turner and Napoleon Strickland also influenced this style. Burnside and Kimbrough would go on to popularize this sound through the Fat Possum Records label. The offspring of these artists and a few of their contemporaries carry on the hill country blues tradition today.

Another defining characteristic of hill country blues is the style’s tendency to put a great deal of emphasis on rhythm. Both musicians and scholars alike have been able to trace this affinity for percussion all the way back to the African continent. In the United States access to percussion instruments was widely withheld from blacks during slavery,[5] but Robert Palmer believed that after the Civil War African Americans quickly picked up their long-suppressed percussion traditions. “To begin with, the passage of the Black Codes, which in most states actually predated the Revolutionary War, did not automatically stamp out all slave drumming”.[6] Palmer also recounted:

"David Evans, an anthropologist who has done extensive fieldwork in the Hill Country of Northern Mississippi, recorded black families there who play polyrhythmic music in their homes on chairs, tin cans, and empty bottles. He reports that among the area’s older black fife and drum musicians, making the drums “talk it” – that is, playing rhythm patterns that conform to proverbial phrases or the words of popular fife and drum tunes – is considered the sign of a good drummer. This enduring tradition of fold polyrhythm played an important part in the development of Mississippi Blues[7]”. “This tradition must have dated back to the latter half of the nineteenth century, and it could not have developed in the first place if there hadn’t been a reservoir of polyrhythmic sophistication in the culture that nurtured it”.[8]


Hill country blues was named after the northern region of Mississippi bordering Tennessee. Holly Springs, Mississippi is often cited in reference to the style.[9] An annual picnic is held to celebrate the region and music.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mississippi hill country blues: an introduction | R.L. Burnside - Junior Kimbrough - Mississippi Fred McDowell - Jessie Mae Hemphill - North Mississippi Allstars". Hillcountryharmonica.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  2. ^ "Mississippi Fred McDowell - Profile of Delta Bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell". Blues.about.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  3. ^ "Hill Country Blues". Msbluestrail.org. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  4. ^ Battaglia, Nicole (2011-04-22). "Here to stay: carrying on the legacy of Hill Country". The Yale Herald. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  5. ^ Robert Palmer, "Deep Blues" Penguin Books: New York, NY. 1982. p. 36
  6. ^ Robert Palmer. "Deep Blues." Penguin Books: New York, NY. 1982. p.37
  7. ^ Robert Palmer. "Deep Blues" Penguin Books, New York, NY. 1982. p.39
  8. ^ Robert Palmer. "Deep Blues" Penguin Books: New York, NY. 1982. p.37
  9. ^ "Hill Country Blues :: Blues Trail Holly Springs". Visit Holly Springs. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  10. ^ "North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic". Northmississippihillcountrypicnic.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10.