Music Ancient As Man

Junior Kimbrough All Night Long is an incredible record.  It really is all the more remarkable when you consider that when it was made in 1992, it was the 65 year-old’s first LP.

Now Junior had been around since pretty much when God was a boy and as well as influencing a number of the Sun Records session men, he was a towering presence in the North Mississippi blues scene, running his own juke joint outside Holly Springs, Marshall County for more than 30 years.  There is a brilliant evocation of the spirit of it all in Robert Palmer’s sleeve notes*, that’s Mr Palmer the producer of this LP and music critic, not the dude who was ‘Addicted to Love’ (first single I ever bought).  It’s pretty significant that this LP was recorded at Junior’s Place, making it more of a fabulously produced field recording, capturing Junior Kimbrough and his band The Soul Blues Boys, featuring fellow Fat Possum Records star R.L Burnside’s son on bass and Junior’s own son on drums.

Goddamn shiny LPs!!
Goddamn shiny LPs!!

I grew up in a very blues-orientated house, my parents both loved it and although I don’t own vast tranches of it I know and love all the original big-name innovators.  Unfortunately my interest got kicked to death in a back alley, decapitated and its corpse urinated upon by all those slick 80’s versions of the blues by people like Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, yeuuchh!  So it all went a bit dormant in me.  Until I heard Junior Kimbrough’s version of ‘Crawling King Snake’ (which isn’t on this LP) on a Mojo coverdisc and I just couldn’t stop playing the thing, obsessed by the weird, spaced quality of the music immediately put me in mind of John Lee Hooker, but much more so.  So springing into action I bought All Night Long about two years later.

The one thing that strikes me above all else is just how African this album sounds.  Something about the way that each track starts with a drone sound that shifts into a tune after a while, like a drunk’s eye blurring and focusing on his glass.  Take a track like ‘Done Got Old’, it has that hazy, unhurried quality that I’ve always associated with the dessert blues of Malian bands like Tamikrest and Tinariwen.  Obviously this is no surprise given the music’s source – both ways, but it is as though Junior Kimbrough somehow became the keeper of the flame, preserving the blues in its most African form.  I read somewhere that this is partly a result of him using his thumb to play a continuous drone on the bass string of his guitar and managing to syncopate that with his melody, the end result when you chuck the polyrhythmic backing into the stew is a sound which really does hark back to the blues stylings of a player like Ali Farka Toure.  The irony of the fact that all those great Malian and Tuareg players were so influenced by the American blues is not lost on me – it’s like a slow tide washing from continent to continent each time taking some of the, umm, magic sands of music with it, a cross-pollination if you will.

Junior Kimbrough Night Long 02

On a track like the opener, ‘Work Me Baby’ all these qualities are foregrounded and Junior’s voice even has a certain muezzin quality to it which just adds to the hypnotic, other-worldly quality of the music; 1992 it may have been but this is music ancient as man.  Second track ‘Do The Romp’, sounds positively primeval, an evolutionary call to get jiggy with it, the guitar rumbling along way below anything else happening here, bubbling like a primordial pool.  I won’t bother you with the whole track by track, but the sinister creeping ‘You Better Run’, a tale of a woman fleeing an attacker is brilliant, although its sexual politics seem to hail from the late ’20s**.

Goddamn murky minotaurs!!
Goddamn murky minotaurs!!

This is a raw, sweaty, bleeding blues album, if All Night Long pushed past you on the street, you’d be able to smell last night’s stale beer on its jacket.  Nothing here has been sanitized at all and that’s why this is such a great LP, why Junior Kimbrough is such a great performer.  Various rockers have spent their millions for years trying to sound this authentic, you can’t it would seem, you have to have lived it, as the sleevenotes say paying your dues, playing twice a week for sixteen years in his own place obviously helps.  Not that the overall feel of this record is a grubby, muddy one at all, this is music that I find hypnotic and transportive.

Junior Kimbrough died in 1998, leaving behind a few more LPs with some great titles, Most Things Haven’t Worked Out and God Knows I Tried, none of which grab me as tight as this one did, or maybe that’s because this was my first exposure to this music ancient as man.

Junior Kimbrough Night Long 03

367 Down.

P.S – This also seems to be the shiniest LP in my whole collection, so I’m afraid the Legoisation is not of the highest quality.  Sorry.  No, actually I’m not sorry at all – deal with it! Grr!

P.P.S – Anything on Fat Possum records is worth checking out in my experience.

P.P.P.S – Junior Kimbrough’s work has spawned two great cover albums, The Black Keys Chulahoma and Sunday Nights, the latter featuring Iggy & The Stooges, Mark Lanegan and Spiritualized amongst others.

*SLEEVE NOTES!!  SLEEVE NOTES!! God I love them!

**The Stooges did no less than two covers of this track in 2005.



21 thoughts on “Music Ancient As Man

  1. Discovered Jr. through Jon Spencer. Yeah, I like it for all the reasons you stated. Possum has some great stuff. Lightning Hopkins is a CB fave, Sonny Boy, Wolf, Muddy……. No flash and dash just the real stuff. Good one 1537.

  2. The blues(Blues.) I think my love for jazz has tainted my younger selves love for the blues. Like you, my interest in the blues was watered down by the 80s exploits of Gary Moore, Blues Saraceno, John Sykes, and the like. I had an old cassette that was called ‘White Boy Blues’ which was Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page playing various blues essentials the only way they knew how, which was nothing like the original.

    So by the time I’d gotten into my 20s I felt the blues were just kinda there. Jazz always seemed like a style of music that couldn’t be truly mimicked(don’t even bring up Kenny G, yo.) And when I saw Buddy Guy a few years back it only put the nail in the blues coffin for me. But your description of Junior Kimbrough’s album makes me curious. The “African” sound, and drones at the beginnings of songs, these are words I greatly like. I think my local record shop has some Kimbrough. May have to check it out.

      1. Yes, that was the thread that captured my interest. I recall enjoying the Ali Farka Toure / Ry Cooder album much more than I expected then being similarly delighted by Tinariwen.

  3. Oh man, you are RIGHT in my wheelhouse now. I do love me some Junior Kimbrough. And T-Model Ford. And R.L. Burnside. And… You know, I could own every Fat Possum release ever and be very very very happy indeed. They do good work, getting good music out there.

    I’ve been into the blues so long, always got some of it with me. Strayed off the beaten path pretty far, sometimes, and very rarely been disappointed.

    Well done!

  4. I LOL’d so hard at the Robert Palmer ref: “Not the dude who was Addicted to Love.” Awesome!

    I’ll have to let the hubs know about this album. We both have an appreciation for the Blues. B.B. King – that brother’s music speaks to me. My hubs’s blues repertoire is a lot more profound than mine.

    1. I’ve seen B.B. King in concert 4 times. Each time, he (and his entire band) were stunningly good. I even got him to sign my booklet for my 4CD King Of The Blues box set. We had a brief moment, just me and him, got to thank him for the music. So great.

      1. Totally agree. People think ‘ah, he’s singing the blues, he must be a mopey bastard’ but there’s a lot of real life and funny stuff there too.

        I’m glad you got to see him, I think everyone should!

      2. Yeah 1537, it was really something for those 10 seconds or whatever it was, it was just me and B.B. I should take a picture of all the loot I got that night. But best of all is the memory of the little head nod he gave me as he smiled. I knew then that everything would be alright. 😉

    2. Thank you so much. If you don’t have this and like the blues a lot, then I’d really recommend it.

      I like the song but I confess I bought Addicted to Love because of the video!

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