There are musicians who have a scarce work, but whose songs have generated a new creative torrent in later generations. Junior Kimbrough debuted late and recorded little, but his music and guitar playing influenced notable bands like The Black Keys.
Kimbrough, a native of Mississippi, was the son of a barber and grew up in love with the blues, with the sounds of artists like Lightnin Hopkins. The young man, who began playing in the 50s, moved to Memphis in the sixties where he made his first recording for the Goldwax label, a label that declined to publish those sessions that did not see the light of day until the musician’s death in 2009. Already in this century, the specialized label Big Legal Mess bought those recordings published as First recordings.
That initial rejection relegated Junior to the secondary circuit, to play in seedy places for a few coins and working on whatever it was. His music did not see the light until the nineties. His syncopated and hypnotic blues – compared to that of John Lee Hooker or Ali Farka Toure – would take decades to find an audience.
That moment came in the 1990s, when his first professional recording of 1967 was only in the memory of the most incisive collectors. His attempts to record in the seventies and eighties, embodied in singles for labels of little distribution, did not have much impact beyond a couple of incorporated songs. on a blues compilation released in Europe, although in those years he made his debut in New York within the Lincoln Center programming, which shows that even if he was not a recording musician, his performances were well valued. Around that time, in the late eighties and early nineties, Junior opened a juke joint in Chulahoma, a seedy place in Marshal County north of Mississippi, a kind of diner with food, drink and live music that was his base camp until his death. There he recorded and played frequently for years and the place attracted many blues-loving musicians such as Keith Richards Bono from U2 or Iggy Pop until the venue burned down in 2004.
In that climate of incipient recognition, the great bluesman led by the Fat Possum label. In 1992 Junior Kimbrough recorded his first album, an album that received a lot of attention and rave reviews from major media such as Rolling Stone and it rang quite a bit on US stations. That debut is a collection of powerful songs, most of them composed decades ago and part of the musician’s repertoire in his live performances. A wonderful record that is a hard-to-find collector’s gem, at least at a reasonable price. In 1994, two years later and taking advantage of the success of his first recording, Kimbrough went back to the studio again hand in hand with the Mississippi seal and recorded a huge album with a wonderful title Sad days lonely nights (sad days, lonely nights).
With this second album, edited when the musician was 64 years oldJunior became a phenomenon for blues lovers and especially for musicians and guitarists who had the blues as an influence. The record worked very well and Kimbrough made a major leap in his career by playing in bigger venues, in major cities, and at big-name festivals. After a lifetime of playing, he had managed to get his music to reach the people.
In 1997 it was the turn of Most things havent work out a continuous album in the line of Junior’s work, an album marked by the bluesman’s guitar, by those hypnotic tones and by the beauty of blues simplicity, songs that reflect the life of this veteran songwriter who sings of heartbreak, mistakes and above all, a constant in his work, loneliness, something that Junior was terrified of as they show songs as intense as the fabulous Lonesome Road.
But the good star of the musió did not last long. A year later, in 1998, Junior Kimbrough died of a heart attack. His label, the label that had given him the great opportunity of his life, surrendered to his talent and in the following years they released several albums with his unreleased recordings and the best of his work. The first to hit the shops was the splendid Gods knows I tried, perhaps the most suitable album to delve into his work. Then came the tributes. Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), a great admirer of Junior and his way of playing the guitar, recorded in 2006 the tribute of Chulahoma, although he had already recorded a version of him in his debut (The Big Come Up). Chulahoma It was a heartfelt tribute and to a certain extent simple, more ambitious was the tribute that Junior’s label published at this same time with a dozen artists performing their songs, there were also the Black Keys accompanied by musicians such as Cat Power, Iggy Pop, Jim White, Espiritualized o Mark Lanegan.
The reissues, compilations and tribute albums of Junior Kimbrough’s work recapture the legacy of this cursed bluesman. A hard kind of life that took 64 years to record his first album and barely recorded two more before he died. Those records were his testament, a scarce legacy of songs and long descendants, he had 36 children, according to legend. His influence and his sound go beyond fame or money, success as understood in music. They are part of the tradition of rural American music, the one that was transmitted on the southern porches from family to family, from teachers to students, in people who did not think about success or record records, but thanks to that they have achieved. transmit those sounds to new generations.