For many years, Hill Country bluesman Junior Kimbrough had a juke joint in rural Marshall County that was a destination for those in the know. People from all over the world made their way to the spot, where blues continued “All Night Long”, as the song said. The juke moved a couple of times over the years, then burned to the ground, and never reopened. So when I heard that Junior’s son was opening a new juke called Junior’s Juke Joint #2 near Holly Springs, I was thrilled. The new juke is much closer to town than the old ones had been, just north of the Rust College campus along Highway 7. The bright blue building was already abuzz with activity when I arrived, and I saw a number of people that had just come from the blues concert on the square, just as I had. Little Joe Ayers performed first, and as he was on stage Shannon McNally and Garry Burnside came in. Shortly thereafter, Junior Kimbrough’s son Robert Kimbrough got on stage and performed several tunes, and then the man of the evening appears, the juke’s owner himself, David Kimbrough Jr. As he performs a number of the Hill Country blues standards, his dad’s as well as R. L. Burnside’s, the floor fills up with willing dancers. When I left at midnight, things were still going strong. Junior’s Juke Joint #2 will be a must-visit attraction in Holly Springs.
Beginning in July each summer, the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi sponsors Thursday night blues concerts on the courthouse lawn in the town square. While the events do attract tourists, it’s not just a tourist-oriented event, as Marshall County is an important place in Mississippi blues history. Two of the greatest Hill County bluesmen, R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, were from Marshall County, and made their careers and reputations in the area. The county is also home to the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, held each summer in Waterford, and the county seat of Holly Springs is the location of Akei Pro’s Record Shop, a virtual blues-lover’s paradise, full of old vinyl records and some compact discs, as well as bluesman Duwayne Burnside’s local club, Alice Mae’s Cafe.
On September 25, I headed down to Holly Springs for the soft opening of a new juke joint, Junior’s Juke Joint #2, being opened north of town by David Kimbrough Jr, son of the late Junior Kimbrough. The opening date was chosen to correspond to the final Thursday night event of the year on the square, so I headed there first, and found a large crowd listening, dancing and enjoying the music of blues singer Brown Sugar and her band. After her performance, I ran across and grabbed a dinner at JB’s on the Square (good food) and then made it back in time to see indie singer Shannon McNally, who was performing with a band that included Garry Burnside (another son of R. L.’s) on guitar. North Center Street was also in a festive mood, with a large crowd outdoors, and good Southern Soul records playing in Alice Mae’s Cafe. In a large parking lot north of Akei Pro’s, there was a crowd of people hanging out and grilling food. After Shannon’s last song, there was a procession of Corvettes that came through the square, and the final Thursday night Blues on the Square event for 2014 came to a close.
On Sunday, July 21st, I was driving back from Atlanta to Memphis, and while I stopped at O’Henry’s Coffee in Homewood, Alabama for a latte, I saw on my phone that blues great Duwayne Burnside would be playing at Foxfire Ranch,a large outdoor venue at Waterford, Mississippi in Marshall County. So I called my homeboy Mike Suggs, who lives in Marshall County and asked him if he wanted to meet me there and he said he would. Actually, the Foxfire Ranch has blues every Sunday night during the summer months, and I was surprised at the extent of the crowd. And although this was very much Duwayne’s show, everyone who is anyone in Hill County blues just about showed up, including Shannon McNally, Kenny and Sarah Brown (organizers of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic), Little Joe Ayers and Kinny Kimbrough. It was a night of great music and great fun.
Originally from the New York area, blues-roots singer Shannon McNally has lived a little bit of everywhere, from Austin to New Orleans, before choosing to settle down in North Mississippi. She has garnered national attention for her most recent release Small Town Talk, an album which celebrates the late Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles, and has been extremely active in both the Memphis and North Mississippi music scenes. Her appearance at the 40th Anniversary concert of the Memphis Recording Academy chapter included a rousing rendition of “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City” and a couple of Bobby Charles compositions from her recent album.
In addition to all the events going on in Memphis, there also will be a considerable amount of arts and music fun at Oxford’s Double Decker Arts Festival, which begins Friday and continues Saturday. The line-up includes Shannon McNally, The Stooges Brass Band from New Orleans, Lee Fields and the Expressions, the Drive-By Truckers, and Hill country bluesman Eric Deaton. A complete music schedule can be found here: http://www.doubledeckerfestival.com/music.html.
Shannon McNally performs a Bobby Charles composition with Joe Restivo at Spin Street in Memphis on 4/23/13. Her album “Small Town Talk” came out a week ago.
Mississippi bluesman Duwayne Burnside (R.L. Burnside’s son) performs the Mississippi Hill country standard “Rollin’ & Tumblin'” with some assistance from singer-songwriter Shannon McNally in front of Cat Head Delta Blues in Clarksdale during Juke Joint Festival 2013