By Tom Speed
The Burnside and Ayers families go way back. Now they’re coming together again as a new generation keeps the hill country blues spirit alive. Cedric and Garry Burnside, along with Trenton Ayers, are picking up where their forefathers left off.
For years, Earl “Little Joe” Ayers served as a member of the Soul Blues Boys, Junior Kimbrough’s backing band. Though he started off as a second guitarist, he later moved to bass and remained in that spot for decades. During this time, Garry Burnside, son of Kimbrough contemporary R.L. Burnside, was learning to play too. In time, he’d take Ayers place in the band, playing bass as a member of the Soul Blues Boys and appearing on Kimbrough albums in the 1990s.
“I played bass with Junior when I was eleven,” recalls Burnside. “When I was nine he started teaching me.”
Ayers’ son Trenton grew up in the same family tradition too, learning to play under the tutelage of his father and Burnside family members too, family members who happened to be master bluesmen. One of those family members was Garry’s nephew Cedric Burnside. Though Garry is Cedric’s uncle, the pair are just two years apart in age as Garry is the youngest of R.L.’s eight sons.
Cedric played drums for R.L. (whom he calls “Big Daddy”) at a young age, and soon Ayers was hanging around too.
“Trent was coming around to the house parties that Big Daddy used to throw since he was four or five years old,” says Cedric.
But while Garry would later travel with Kimbrough and Cedric would tour the world with R.L., Ayers never strayed too far from home.
“His daddy wouldn’t let him come out because he was young,” explains Garry.
But the younger Ayers did learn to play music alongside his father, and in informal settings with his friend Cedric.
“My dad used to bring me around Cedric and his family,” says Ayers. “Eventually I picked it up.”
He also served a stint as the bass player in the Cleveland, Miss.-based band The Electric Mudd. Meanwhile, in 2006, Cedric and Garry collaborated in the band The Burnside Exploration, releasing an album under the name The Record and touring as a band.
Cedric would later team up with Ayers to form The Cedric Burnside Project, while Garry went on to form his own band. The Cedric Burnside Project released Hear Me When I Say last year and the record was heralded for its wide range of styles and Burnside’s songwriting.
Now the Burnsides and Ayers are teaming up as a trio. In July, the trio headed into Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Studio in Memphis to record an album of mostly original material.
Each of the three musicians contributed original songs to the project, to be called the Descendants of Hill Country by The Cedric Burnside Project with Garry Burnside.
Not only do they share songwriting duties, they swap instruments too. Each player is adept at different instruments so on different tracks the configuration changes, usually depending on who wrote the song.
“It’s a new group, new music,” explains Cedric. “I have to say I’m glad to be doing something as a family. I’m glad to be working with Garry again and hopefully we can come together more and hopefully we’ll just start it as a trio from now. That’s another beautiful thing is that its more versatile because we can all three get behind each other—I can play drums behind the guys. Garry can play drums so he plays behind me while I play guitar. Trent plays bass then when Trent switches to guitar, Garry places bass. It’s almost like three different bands.”
“It was amazing how they’d switch up,” adds Bomar, who acted as recording engineer. “It’s amazing that all three of those guys can play everything. The original songs that they wrote for the record are great. To me it’s the past and future of the music. It’s great to see how passionate these guys are about this music and keeping it going.”
Note: This article was originally published in Living Blues magazine.