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Junior Kimbrough, 1995
|Birth name||David Kimbrough|
July 28, 1930|
Hudsonville, Mississippi, United States
|Died||January 17, 1998
Holly Springs, Mississippi, United States
|Genres||Hill country blues, juke joint blues, country blues|
Junior Kimbrough was born in Hudsonville, Mississippi, and lived in the North Mississippi Hill Country near Holly Springs. His father was a guitarist and a barber, and Junior picked his guitar as a child. He was apparently influenced by guitarists Lightnin' Hopkins and Mississippi Fred McDowell and Eli Green, the latter of whom carried a reputation of a dangerous voodoo man.
In the late 1950s he 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. This style would later be cited as a prime example of regional north hill country blues. 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 was described by music critic Robert Palmer as "hypnotic". 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 that of Fulani musicians such as Ali Farka Touré. Music journalist Tony Russell stated "his raw, repetitive style suggests an archaic forebear of John Lee Hooker, a character his music shares with that of fellow North Mississippian R. L. Burnside".
In 1966 Kimbrough traveled to Memphis, Tennessee from his home in North Mississippi and recorded for the R&B/gospel producer and owner of the Goldwax record label, Quinton Claunch. Claunch was a founder of Hi Records and is known as the man that gave James Carr and O.V. Wright their start. Kimbrough recorded one session at American Studios. Claunch declined to release the recordings, deeming them too country. Some forty 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 record Kimbrough's name was spelled incorrectly as Junior Kimbell and the song "Tramp" was listed as "Tram?" The b-side was "You Can't Leave Me". Among his other early recordings are two duets with his childhood friend Charlie Feathers in 1969. Feathers counted Kimbrough as an early influence and Kimbrough 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 for High Water, releasing a single in 1982 ("Keep Your Hands Off Her" b/w "I Feel Good, Little Girl"). Playing then were bassist John Scales and drummer Calvin Jackson. The label recorded a 1988 session with Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys (this time bassist Little Joe Ayers and drummer "Allabu Juju"), releasing it in 1997 with his 1982 single as "Do The Rump". In 1987 Kimbrough had his New York debut with the Lincoln Center.
His stock rose with indie aficionados 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 recorded earlier in 1990, in the Chewalla Rib Shack - a juke joint he opened the same year east of Holly Springs to divert crowds from his packed house parties. Beginning around 1992, Kimbrough operated a juke joint known as "Junior's Place" in Chulahoma in a building near Holly Springs that used to be a church.
Kimbrough came to national attention in 1992 with his debut album, All Night Long. Robert Palmer produced the album for Fat Possum, recording it in the joint, 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. His joint in Chulahoma started to attract visitors from around the world, including members of U2, Keith Richards, and Iggy Pop. Labelmate R. L. Burnside, and the Burnside and Kimbrough families often collaborated on musical projects.
A second album for Fat Possum, Sad Days, 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. Fat Possum also released a tribute album, Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, in 2005, which featured Iggy & The Stooges (Kimbrough once toured with frontman Iggy Pop), The Black Keys and Mark Lanegan. The Black Keys have released an EP composed entirely of covers of Junior's music, Chulahoma. Sweet Tea by Buddy Guy is another album that borrows heavily from Kimbrough and have had considerable success. Richard Johnston, a Kimbrough protégé, keeps this musical tradition alive with one of Junior's sons, via live performances on Beale Street in Memphis.
Junior Kimbrough died of a heart attack in 1998 in Holly Springs following a stroke, at the age of 67. According to Fat Possum Records, he is survived by his claimed 36 children. He is buried outside his family's church, the Kimbrough Chapel Missionary Baptist Church near Holly Springs. Rockabilly musician and friend Charlie Feathers called Kimbrough "the beginning and end of all music." This is written on Kimbrough's tombstone. Kimbrough's sons, musicians Kinney and David Malone Kimbrough, kept "Junior's Place", which remained an attraction for big crowds, open following his death, until it burned to the ground on April 6, 2000. As of 2015[update], David had a row of company- and self-published solo releases, Kent had one (beside sideman work), and the two have played together with their brother Robert as The Kimbrough Brothers.
- First Recordings (recorded in 1966, released in 2009)
- All Night Long (1992)
- Sad Days, Lonely Nights (1993)
- Do The Rump (1997)
- Most Things Haven't Worked Out (1997)
- God Knows I Tried (1998)
- Meet Me in the City (1999)
- You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough (2002)
- Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough
- The Black Keys - Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough (Songs written by Kimbrough and performed by The Black Keys)
- Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads (1992)
- You See Me Laughin': The Last of the Hill Country Bluesmen (2003) - released by Fat Possum Records in 2005
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed November 2009
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- "Mississippi hill country blues: an introduction | R.L. Burnside - Junior Kimbrough - Mississippi Fred McDowell - Jessie Mae Hemphill - North Mississippi Allstars". Hillcountryharmonica.com. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Wes Freeman (April 2010). "Afrissippi, merging two continents". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved July 26, 2015.
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- Stefan Wirz. "Illustrated High Water Recording Company discography". Retrieved 2015-07-01.
- "Junior Kimbrough And The Soul Blues Boys - Do The Rump!". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2015-07-01.
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- "Buddy Guy Goes South For 'Sweet Tea'". Billboard. 28 April 2001. pp. 7, 84. ISSN 00062510.
- "Arson Destroys Junior Kimbrough’s Jook Joint". Blues Access (42). Summer 2000. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
- Chris Nelson (2000-04-11). "Fire Levels Junior Kimbrough's North Mississippi Juke Joint". MTV News. Retrieved 2015-07-27.
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- Junior Kimbrough page from Fat Possum Records site
- Junior Kimbrough by Greg Johnson, from Blues Notes, April 2002 (from Cascade Blues Association site)
- Junior's Juke Joint: The Music of the Late Great Bluesman Junior Kimbrough
- Kimbrough biography at Allmusic
- Junior Kimbrough at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Junior Kimbrough in libraries (WorldCat catalog)