For much of my life, I never connected with the blues. To me, most of the genre sounded same-ish, repeating similar lyrical content ad infinitum. This is a little surprising, given my love of sad and despondent music, and my allegiance to guitar-driven rock music, which arose from the blues. This mindset began to change when a good friend of mine introduced me to the music of Junior Kimbrough, originally by way of an excellent EP of covers by the Black Keys.
Junior Kimbrough has a very distinctive style of the blues which he developed largely outside of the wider musical world, hardly ever travelling outside of Mississippi. His songs are characterized by a droning groove, where he slowly meanders and builds upon a single riff, creating moody and entrancing music. And while the lyrical content of many of his songs is simple, and in line with the conventions of the genre, most of his vocals are mumbled and indistinct, teeming with an emotive heft that you can feel regardless of enunciation. This is music where you can feel the sorrow emanating from it.
Most of Kimbrough’s recorded musical output comes from late in his life, after gaining some national attention when music critic Robert Palmer released a documentary called Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads, featuring Kimbrough and other practitioners of North Mississippi hill country blues. Palmer then produced a number of albums for Kimbrough, released by Fat Possum Records, nearly all of which were recorded live in Kimbrough’s Juke Joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi.
Done Got Old is a song where Kimbrough sings about growing old and not being able to do all that he could in his youth. There are a few different recordings of this song, the first of which was from a recording session in 1966, when he was just 36 years old (this is from the earliest known recordings of Kimbrough, which did not get released until after his death). It is interesting to think that Kimbrough penned this song when he was still relatively young, with 30 plus years ahead of him. Perhaps the difficult life of a sharecropper made him think that at 36, the most able years of his life were already past him? We are fortunate to have this early recording, to see how Kimbrough’s sound evolved as he got older. This first recording is brighter and more nimble sounding than the sullen drones of later recordings.
If you are not familiar with the music of Junior Kimbrough, make sure to change that!
Buy Kimbrough's albums HERE.