Few of the people in New Albany Thursday evening for the Biscuits & Jam Farmers’ Market realized they were being entertained by a significant Mississippi musician.
Bluesman Kenny Brown sang his songs and played his electric guitar on the small stage at the July 19th event. A small oscillating electric fan blew on him and his portable Peavey sound system. He didn’t draw much attention with only one or two small children lounging on the pillows immediately in front of the stage. Most of the people at the weekly farmers market paid no more attention to Brown than they would have to background music in a restaurant or bar.
Kenny Brown had his 65th birthday earlier this month and has been playing music since he was 12 years old. He is not exactly famous, but is known and admired by knowledgeable blues lovers. A slide guitarist, he has played around the world in venues large and small and is a still an indefatigable promoter of Hill Country Blues.
Born at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, Brown grew up in Nesbit in Desoto County. He was a guitar apprentice of Mississippi Joe Callicott. Brown played for many years with bluesman R. L. Burnside, a Lafayette County native, who achieved commercial success during the last third of his life.
Burnside supported himself for decades as a tractor driver and factory worker and served a little time in Parchman for killing a man in a crap game. He said his boss got him out of prison in less than a year because he needed him working on his farm. R. L. Burnside began earning his living as a musician after he was 50 years old. He played music with John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Junior Kimbrough and formed his own blues band.
Kenny Brown played guitar with the Burnside band for 20 years in Southern blues joints, in major U.S. cities and in several European tours. Burnside would introduce Brown as “white boy on guitar” and “my white son.”
After Burnside died in Memphis in 2005, Kenny Brown continued playing music. He had a role in the 2006 motion picture “Black Snake Moan.” Actor Samuel L. Jackson starred in the film, and Kenny Brown appeared on screen, backing Jackson’s singing, as did R. L. Burnside’s grandson, drummer Cedric Burnside.
Besides playing on Burnside’s recording, Brown has played guitar on recordings with other well-known performers, including Junior Kimbrough and Cyndi Lauper.
Today, Bluesman Kenny Brown and his wife Sara live in Potts Camp, Mississippi. They are the principal promoters of the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Marshall County. He plays music everywhere he can, including at Biscuits & Jam Farmers Market on the left bank of the Tallahatchie River in New Albany. Few people have worked harder to preserve and promote Hill Country Blues, which has seen substantial growth in popularity in recent years.
Several hundred people bought fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at Biscuits & Jam Thursday evening in New Albany, and a few of them listened a little bit as Kenny Brown sang Hill Country Blues.
The Biscuits and Jam Farmers’ Market will be open on the bank of the Tallahatchie River Thursdays, from 4:00 – 7:00 PM, through August.