Lightnin’ Malcolm is no slouch when it comes to playing electric guitar, as his name surely suggests.
But he points out that he also sings, and when he plays with The North Mississippi Allstars, he plays guitar, bass and drums. And though he’s now a noted exponent of what’s known as the North Mississippi sound, he didn’t come by it naturally - certainly not as a youth growing up in a small town not far from Joplin, Mo.
“When I was going to school, I was the only kid who listened to the blues, especially Lightnin’ Hopkins, so that’s how I got my nickname,” Malcolm says. “I remember telling other kids that they would be more likely to love it later, when they got older, that it might take them a while to appreciate blues music. And I think there have been more and more younger folks in the last few years that have become fans of the blues.
“When I was a kid, there was no money for instruments, so I’d get a stick in the backyard and take a bucket and beat on it. Music is all I ever thought about, and I just assumed it was that way for every other kid.”
Raised with three brothers by a working mother, Malcolm admits that he did not always toe the line for his mama, who worked nights as a nurse.
“All I had to do was be home before 8 in the morning, which is when she got home,” he says. “I sometime wonder if she really knew I was in the bed, with the sheet pulled up, and my clothes still on. I was out a lot, at honky tonks and bars. I started by playing at poker games, hoping that I might be good enough to get a tip from some of the winning players.”
Malcolm will be playing Friday at the White Water, which he proclaims is one of his favorite clubs, along with one other musician, who goes by just one name, Stud, on drums.
“He is the grandson of T Model Ford,” Malcolm says. “And I remember I used to play drums for T Model years ago, and Stud, when he was 5, would sit in my lap and watch me play. As the years went by, I’d keep track of his progress, and we ran into each other earlier this year. I had a solo tour coming up, and I told him he ought to go with me, and he’s been so good, maybe the best drummer I’ve seen,that I figure he’s the brightest young star coming out of Mississippi.”
When Malcolm was a young up-and-comer, he made his home in 1992 in Holly Springs (north Mississippi) to watch and learn from the area’s musical legends and their offspring. Besides T Model Ford, they were Otha Turner, CeDell Davis, Sam Carr, Big Jack Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Robert Belfour, Kenny Kimbrough, Cedric Burnside, Calvin Jackson and Cameron Kimbrough.
Malcolm is promoting his latest CD, Rough Out There, which features a guest guitarist, Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. Of his six CDs, Malcolm made two with Cedric Burnside, who also lives in Holly Springs. The two men together were named winners of the Best New Artist Debut award at the 2009 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, for their duo album, 2 Man Wrecking Crew.
Malcolm named his CD Rough Out There as a warning to his listeners of how modern-day life is exactly that. Someone recently tried to rob him.
“In spite of everything here, I love this area,” he says. “This is a poor state, and the blues is all around us, along with spirits, and a lot of it is bad. The main cash crop now is not cotton, but crack cocaine, and it’s hard to find a job. Drug dealers always need runners, and all my life people have tried to get me to do that, but I’ve resisted, thanks to my love of music.”
And it’s Malcolm’s obvious love for what he does that has been slowly making his a name that has brought him to more and more fans in blues country, whether it’s clubs like the White Water or juke joints down dirt roads between cotton fields. He knows he still has a long way to go, and a lot to learn, and he’s determined to continue his quest.
“I’m gonna keep getting better,” he says. “I may not be the best yet, but I keep improving. I know everyone is having a good time, having a party, if they’re up not just dancing, but also stomping !”
9 p.m. Friday, White Water Tavern, West Seventh and Thayer streets, Little Rock
Weekend, Pages 34 on 06/27/2013
Print Headline: Blues’ Malcolm knows it’s Rough Out There