Burnside and Kimbrough student is now the teacher, and class is in session this Friday night
Story and Photos by Phillip Waller, Sophomore, The Meek School of Journalism & New Media at The University of Mississippi
When you think of Mississippi bluesmen, you might not imagine a man like Eric Deaton—a lily white, straight-haired guitar player born and raised in Garner, North Carolina. But, if you close your eyes and take in his smooth grooves and sweet riffs, you may be transported to a different time and place where music was felt out in the smoky back rooms of former sharecropper cabins over corn whiskey and gin. It was there that Eric learned the blues, and now he will be carrying those memories and sweet strains of north Mississippi hill country blues with him to the Double Decker Arts Festival Presented by C Spire.
With a classically trained pianist as a mother, Eric was born into music. He got his first guitar at 13 and quickly fell for the Mississippi blues. The music became his passion, but there was not much of a scene in North Carolina—a state known more for its twangy folk music and bluegrass than for the blues.
“You start playing music just like any kid would, because it’s the sound that you like … and I learned quickly that I wanted to play the blues,” Deaton says. “Blues is probably the most expressive way to play guitar.”
Deaton decided in high school to move to Mississippi to apprentice himself to the music he loved, but his parents had different ideas. “You’ve got to go to college,” they said. So, Eric picked up a map of Mississippi, pointed to the closest college to Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint and enrolled himself at Northwest Community College in Senatobia. “I think if I had waited until I was older to move, that I might have been a bit more hesitant, but I was young enough and enthusiastic and crazy enough that I said, ‘That’s exactly what I need to do.’”
Through the week he was a college student and weekends he was a guitarist picking out tunes with some of the blues greats of the time. T-Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside were his prophets and he was their disciple. “Those families were the only people I knew in Mississippi, but they were who I wanted to know. Being able to play music with them made me the musician I am today,” said Deaton.
The hill country blues is a riff-oriented style of music that really relies on the musicians working together to put the song together. “R. L. (Burnside) was really into showing up with a crowd, plugging in, and playing,” says Deaton. There never really were practice sessions, so he had to learn everything he knew on the fly. “That’s the really cool thing about blues music is that you can just jump in with people you have never met and start.”
Since then, Eric has been keeping busy, developing his own style of blues with hints of African music from his time with the band Afro-sippi. Other pieces include notes from the sitar, a stringed guitar-like instrument used in Indian folk-music. “I definitely haven’t heard anyone else do that,” he said.
Deaton never really plays any song exactly the same way twice. The crowd gets a unique experience at every concert. “Blues is really a background for improvising. It’s definitely not a songwriter’s art,” he says.
Though he plays fairly often in the Oxford area, Deaton is looking forward to playing for a hometown crowd again at the Double Decker fest. He’s had the opportunity to play for Double Decker with other bands, but this will be his first time as his own act, the Eric Deaton Trio, with Junior’s son Kinney Kimbrough on drums and journeyman bassist Nate Robbins. “It’s so much more meaningful playing for a crowd,” he says. “If the crowd is giving you love, if they’re dancing, then that means its moving them.”
The Eric Deaton Trio will play a free show before Blue Mountain Friday, April 26, on the Double Decker stage starting around 7 p.m. after Thacker Mountain Radio.