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R.L. Burnside Profile

By

R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside photo by David Raccuglia

Photo courtesy Fat Possum Records

R.L. Burnside Profile:

Born: November 23, 1926 in Oxford MS

Died: September 1, 2005 in Memphis TN

R.L. Burnside is the best-known proponent of what is known as the "Mississippi Hill Country blues." A raucous, rhythmic, foot-stomping brand of blues made to be performed in the region's numerous juke joints, Burnside was one of the style's most popular practitioners. Backed by a red-hot band that included two of his sons and a son-in-law, Burnside's influences were modern performers like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, but his mentor was Mississippi Fred McDowell, so his electric blues sound is firmly footed in the country rather than the city.

Deep Blues

Although Burnside worked with folklorist and producer George Mitchell on a series of field recordings during the 1960s, and recorded sides for a handful of small blues labels during the decade, he primarily worked as a farmer until late in his life. Burnside would play on weekends in North Mississippi's numerous juke joints.

In 1992, Burnside appeared with his friend, fellow bluesman Junior Kimbrough, in the documentary film Deep Blues. He had signed with independent Mississippi blues label Fat Possum, which released his debut album, Bad Luck City, the same year.

Recorded live with his family band, Sound Machine, Bad Luck City featured sons Dwayne on guitar and Joseph on bass and son-in-law Calvin Johnson on drums. Kenny Brown would later join Burnside's band on guitar. Burnside followed his debut with the 1994 studio album Too Bad Jim.

Burnside recorded A Ass Pocket O' Whiskey with rocker Jon Spencer in 1996 for the Matador label. It is his Fat Possum label recordings on which his reputation is based, however. Burnside toured several times during the 1990s, including European blues festivals. A live album, Burnside On Burnside, was released in 2001.

Come On In

The 71-year-old bluesman worked with producer Tom Rothrock on 1998's Come On In. Rothrock added samples, loops and beats to Burnside's organic country blues, creating an entirely new and exciting sound that attracted young fans. During the late-1990s, many of Burnside's early-60s recordings were also released on CD.

Recommended Albums: Too Bad Jim offers up a plate full of Burnside's trademark greasy blues, but Come On In mixes "deep blues" with modern technology to fine effect.

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