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David “Junior” Kimbrough (Hudsonville, Mississippi, July 28, 1930 – Holly Springs, Mississippi, January 17, 1998) was an American blues musician most notable for his recorded output in the 1990s for the Fat Possum Records label. His style of modern electric blues was marked by its hypnotic modal guitar rhythms, backwoods singing style and nocturnal lyrics. He was a long-time associate of labelmate R.L. Burnside and the Burnside and Kimbrough families often collaborated on musical projects.

Junior Kimbrough was born in Hudsonville, Mississippi and lived in the North Mississippi Hill Country near Holly Springs. Kimbrough began playing guitar in his youth, and counted Lightnin’ Hopkins as an early influence. In the late 1950s he began playing in his own style, which made use of mid-tempo rhythms and a steady drone he played with his thumb on the bass strings of his guitar. This style would later be cited as a prime example of regional north hill country blues. His music is characterized by the tricky syncopations between his droning bass strings and his mid-range melodies. His soloing style has been described as modal and features languorous runs in the mid and upper register. The result was described by music critic Robert Palmer as “hypnotic”. In solo and ensemble settings it is often polyrhythmic, which links it explicitly to the music of Africa. Fellow North Mississippi bluesman and former Kimbrough bassist Eric Deaton has suggested similarities between Junior Kimbrough’s music and Malian bluesman Ali Farka Touré’s.

In 1966 Kimbrough traveled to Memphis, Tennessee from his home in North Mississippi and recorded for the R&B/gospel producer and owner of the Goldwax record label, Quinton Claunch. Claunch was a founder of Hi Records (whose entire catalog will be reissued by Fat Possum) and is known as the man that gave James Carr and O.V. Wright their start. Kimbrough recorded one session in one afternoon at American Studios. Claunch declined to release the recordings, deeming them too country. Forty some years later, Bruce Watson of Big Legal Mess Records approached Claunch to buy the original master tapes and the rights to release the recordings made that day. These songs were released by Big Legal Mess Records in 2009 as First Recordings. Kimbrough’s debut release was a cover version of Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” released as a single on independent label Philwood in 1967. On the label of the record Kimbrough’s name was spelled incorrectly as Junior Kimbell and the song “Tramp” was listed as “Tram?” The b-side was “You Can’t Leave Me”. Among his other early recordings are two duets with his childhood friend, rockabilly musician, Charlie Feathers in 1969. Feathers counted Kimbrough as an early influence and Kimbrough gave Feathers some of his earliest lessons on guitar. Charlie Feathers called Kimbrough “the beginning and end of all music.” This is written on Kimbrough’s tombstone outside his family’s church, the Kimbrough Chapel Missionary Baptist Church near Holly Springs. Kimbrough recorded very little in the 1970s, contributing an early version of “Meet Me in the City” to a European blues anthology. With his band, the Soul Blues Boys, Kimbrough recorded again in the 1980s, releasing a single in 1982 (“Keep Your Hands Off Her” b/w “I Feel Good, Little Girl”). The High Water label recorded a 1988 session with Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys, releasing it in 1997 with his 1982 single as “Do The Rump”. Beginning around 1992, he operated a juke joint known as “Junior’s Place” in Chulahoma, Mississippi, which attracted visitors from around the world, including members of U2 and The Rolling Stones. Kimbrough’s sons, musicians Kinney and David Malone Kimbrough, kept it open following his death, until it burned to the ground on April 6, 2000. Kimbrough came to national attention in 1992 with his debut album, All Night Long. Robert Palmer produced the album for Fat Possum Records, recording it in a local church with Junior’s son Kent “Kinney” Kimbrough (aka Kenny Malone) on drums and R. L. Burnside’s son Garry Burnside on bass guitar. The album featured many of his most celebrated songs, including the title track, the complexly melodic “Meet Me In The City,” and “You Better Run” a harrowing ballad of attempted rape. All Night Long earned near-unanimous praise from critics, receiving four stars in Rolling Stone. His stock continued to rise the following year after live footage of him playing “All Night Long” in one of his juke joints appeared in the Robert Mugge directed, Robert Palmer narrated film documentary, Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads. This performance was actually recorded earlier in 1990. A second album for Fat Possum, Sad Days, Lonely Nights, followed in 1994. A video for the album’s title track featured Kimbrough, Garry Burnside and Kent Kimbrough playing in Kimbrough’s juke joint. The last album he would record, Most Things Haven’t Worked Out, appeared on Fat Possum in 1997. Following his death in 1998 in Holly Springs, Fat Possum released two posthumous compilation albums of material Kimbrough recorded in the 1990s, God Knows I Tried (1998) and Meet Me in The City (1999). A greatest hits compilation, You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough, followed in 2002. Fat Possum also released a tribute album, Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, in 2005, which featured Iggy & The Stooges (Kimbrough once toured with frontman Iggy Pop), The Black Keys and Mark Lanegan. The Black Keys have released an album composed entirely of covers of Junior’s music, Chulahoma. Richard Johnston, a Kimbrough protégé, keeps this musical tradition alive with one of Junior’s sons, via live performances on Beale Street in Memphis.

Junior Kimbrough died in 1998 following a stroke. He was the father of 36 children from various relationships.

Junior Kimbrough photo gallery

  Junior Kimbrough