Lightnin Malcolm Holdin’ Down the Root with Hill Country Blues

Video Interview at the Shack Up Inn

Lightnin Malcolm at the Shack Up Inn

Lightnin Malcolm at the Shack Up Inn

By Poor William


The basic groove has been here all along…it’s the root of everything…it will always be there…you can go a long ways if you have that root…but if you lose the root, then you take a chance; some people lose the root and make a lot more money than the people holding down the root. Holding down the root ain’ gonna make the money, but you’re holding down the root, and you know you are holding it down. — Lightnin’ Malcolm

Hear Lightnin Malcolm tonight, September 3d, at Rust Restaurant at the Shack Up Inn. Rust is a wonderful restaurant serving fresh, often-grown-locally food. The music starts at 7:00pm, playing an eclectic, solo set sure to massage the palate. He plays Red’s Lounge Friday, September 4th, beginning at 9pm.

The Mississippi Delta and those who love her music are blessed to be able to hear live blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi every night of the year. It’s insane, but we like crazy ‘round here!

Though I grew up in the MS Delta, I moved away for well over two decades, swearing I would never return! Damn glad I did! I was not aware of this thing called Hill Country Blues, originating in the hill country in Mississippi—Holly Springs, Como, Senatobia, etc. It is characterized by few chord changes, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on the “groove,” a steady, driving rhythm, and it needs only a drum and guitar. In the 1990s this style was popularized through the recordings of Mississippi musicians R.L. Burnside, David “Junior” Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.

I was first introduced to the sound during the Sunflower Blues Festival 2008. Having been told Lightnin Malcolm and Cedric Burnside (a white/black, guitar/drum duo) were playing at the Shack Up Inn, I decided to ease on out late at night and check ‘em out. Glad I did! The mosquitoes were thick, the night muggy, and I was unsure where to stand or what to do. But, soon as I heard their steamy syncopations as long as a black-masked racer, and I spotted my future wife dancing solo near the stage, I was hooked like a channel cat on a treble hook.

Lightnin Malcolm (real name Steve Malcolm, but we all call him by his last name) has become a friend of ours over the years. We are fortunate to hear him often when he passes through, playing at the Shack Up Inn, New Roxy or Red’s Lounge. I am fond of many musicians who keep the Delta live-music scene vibrant, but Malcolm is my personal favorite. His style of blues always lifts me up, keeps me grounded and takes me to a happy place, wherever the heck that is!

We have enjoyed Malcolm playing solo as well as with all his different drummers: Cedric Burnside, Cameron Kimbrough, and Carl “Stud” White—T-Model Ford’s grandson. Also, he has traveled the world playing with Robert Plant and the North Mississippi Allstars (opening for them and playing bass for them). Malcolm can play just about anything. He’s always upbeat, likes to see folks get out and dance, and he always, but always, give 100%! Dig him!

Madge and I did the following interview with him on New Year’s Day 2012; I think Malcolm played until 4:00 a.m., before taking a short nap in the Juke Joint Chapel on a table, where guests eating breakfast awakened him shortly thereafter. He arose and began jamming again not long afterwards. Malcolm keeps it real.

The interview was done in the Robert Clay Shack. St. Louis native and Hill country Blues enthusiast Bobby McDonald—we calls him Unc, Joey and Joel Young, Magical Madge and I took a little beer and moonshine break with Malcolm between sets. Knowing little about hill country blues, I asked him a few questions about this style of blues and how it has influenced him. Enjoy a completely spontaneous interview with my favorite musician, plus a few clips from our Lightnin Malcolm library. pw

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WATCH VIDEO of Lightnin and Stud at Juke Joint Chapel
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  1. Lightnin is also one of my favourites!! Like to hear him – will become true next JJF 2016 – room is booked, flights are booked! CLARKSDALE, WE ARE COMING !!!!!!!!!!!

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