The Turnaround: Junior Kimbrough
This is The Turnaround with Rev. Zach Chandler, where, every week, we’ll be breaking down a different aspect of the blues for a deeper understanding of the music, culture, and people that are the blues. For the next several weeks, we’ll be examining some of the most influential bluesmen of the last century to try to understand where the blues comes from. As an art form centered around expression, the personalities around it are part of what makes this music so special.
Last week, we most certainly did not play no rock ‘n’ roll with Mississippi Fred McDowell.
This week, we’ll be up all night long with Junior Kimbrough.
Here’s what we know: David Kimbrough Jr. was born on July 28, 1930 in Hudsonville, Mississippi and lived in Holly Springs his whole life. His father was a barber and guitarist and taught Junior to play when he eight years old and he
and his eldest sister would play together frequently. He sang in a gospel music group as a teenager. In his 20’s, he started playing blues music with his band at weekend dances and parties and kept a day job as a diesel mechanic. In the late ‘60s, Kimbrough traveled up to Memphis and Nashville to record, but achieved little success. He continued to play with the Soul Blues Boys, but garnered little recognition outside of northern Mississippi. In 1984, Junior Kimbrough started hosting his own weekend parties and in 1991, he made it official and opened his own juke joint in Holly Springs and another, Junior’s Place, in Chulahoma. Kimbrough finally got national exposure when Fat Possum Records recorded a live CD at Junior’s Place. Kimbrough and another local hill country bluesman, R.L. Burnside, played at Junior’s Place every Sunday night. Soon Ole Miss students would start making pilgrimages to Junior’s Place, then rock stars like Keith Richards and Iggy Pop.
Junior Kimbrough finally went home on January 17, 1998 from a heart attack in Holly Springs at 67 years old. He was survived by his wife, 9 children, 42 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren, and is buried outside his family’s church, the Kimbrough Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Two of his boys kept Junior’s Place running until April 6, 2000, when it burned down. The two boys, Kenny and David Malone Kimbrough kept up the tradition as musicians as well, often performing Junior Kimbrough songs alongside their own work.
Junior Kimbrough brought hill country blues to the world, or at least brought the world in to see it. Notable influences include Mississippi Fred McDowell, Charlie Feathers, R.L. Burnside, Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, and Jack White. Most prominently, he influenced the Black Keys, who released a tribute album, Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough and cite him as their major inspiration to pursue a career in music.
To compliment Junior Kimbrough, I’d recommend Templeton Rye Whiskey, the favorite of Al Capone. It will help keep you warm on sad days and lonely nights.