Covered: Junior Kimbrough

What other type of flattery can an artist ask for other than to be covered by another band? …

Each month we are going to have a new artist and four different covers. It is part of my “Covered” series where each month I will take an artist and share four very diverse covers of their music. Think of it as music appreciation and my excuse to put a playlist of music out there for the masses. For the month of October I thought about starting us off with a music form that is strongly American. The Blues. And one underrated artist that embodies the heart of the Blues is Junior Kimbrough.

David “Junior” Kimbrough (July 28th, 1930-January 17th 1998) was the first musician signed to record on “Fat Possum” records, quite possibly one of my favorite record labels ever. Already being a musician for 40 years, he was signed to Fat Possum after the documentary Deep Blues was released in 1992. The producers of the movie were intoxicated by Junior’s sound as being a strong traditional style of blues that was the antithesis of the eastern blues highly influenced by modern rock techniques. A self taught by ear guitar player, Junior learned and developed his style in Hudsonville, Mississippi where he lived most of his life with a few jaunts to Chicago and Memphis. An avid alcoholic his life was spent making music and hosting local music nights at his own juke joints. Starting in his house that he turned into a late-night juke joint, Junior would eventually opened the self-named juke joint “Junior’s” in Chulahoma, Mississippi that was a large tourist attraction through 2000. His traditional music style is steeped in strong Delta tones and down and  dirty gritty guitar chords and a hoarse raspy voice perpetually exploring the underbelly of delta life. Junior’s musical talents were so influential that his tombstone says “Junior Kimbrough is the beginning and end of all music.”

When I first started listening to blues music about a decade ago, I was immediately enthralled by the dirty sound of the deep south. Everything from BB King to Robert Johnson and Fats Domino. The sound is so emotional and raw and when listening to the blues I can literally feel the heartache these people have. Much better than Maroon 5’s calling someone on a payphone. I mean who does that?

The blues is a very personal thing for me. In fact it is so personal that when my parents got into it, I still didn’t share with them the music because I didn’t want it to be tainted by what I felt. I also felt that no band could really do an artist like Junior justice. That was until I started listening to the Black Keys. 

In 2006, the Black Keys released their album Chulahoma. A Junior Kimbrough tribute album that in my mind was one of the best modern blues releases in years. The blues and Jazz, as musician Robert Glasper said in a recent interview, is very fluid and needs to evolve past its traditional roots while at the same time recognizing and acknowledging the past in its form complexity and composure.The Black Keys have taken these suggestions to heart and have always allowed the sound of Mississippi come pouring out of their guitars. The song “Stack Shot Billy” on the release Rubber Tire Factory blew me away because I thought I had stumbled on some old Blues release and not on a duo that would become one of my favorite bands of the 2000’s! The Black Keys actually have been covering Junior Kimbrough since their first album in 2002 with “Do the Rump” and also were inspired to do the Chulahoma album by offering a cover song on the compilation tribute album “Sunday Nights”: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough which I will be talking about later this month.

The Black Keys are able to take Junior’s raw gritty delta sound and take it up to 11 by adding a lot of reverb and heavy guitar/ drum beats. When listening to Junior Kimbrough’s original recordings, he uses a lot of acoustic guitar without any accompnament. What I love about the Black Keys covers is that they already strive for a simple rock and blues sound so it makes almost perfect sense that their covers would be spot on. It also doesn’t hurt that they live in Memphis.

On my favorite song of the album “Meet Me in the City” Dan Aurebach does not stray too much from the original song leading with a beautifully haunting guitar rift and allowing the listener to close their eyes and be lost in a deep south evening with nothing but the warm delta breeze, a nice bottle of moonshine, and the rhythms of love to make you feel alive. Take a look and compare the original with the Black Keys version and see how much respect that the Black Keys play to Junior Kimbrough. A large inspiration for them.

Special Note: The last track on the album is a special thank you from Junior’s Widow that is worth the album alone.

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