Friday, September 02, 2005


One of the greatest Mississippi bluesmen, R L Burnside, has died. He was 78.

Extraordinarily, although acknowledged as one of the finest musicians in the south, he'd not been able to pursue music as a career until 1991. He'd taken up the guitar forty years previously, inspired less by his father - himself a noted guitarist - than by an older generation of Mississippians, including Fred McDowell and Jesse Vortis. Although he quickly developed a reputation in the local juke joints and music houses, a search for economic comfort led to his decision to set aside music and seek better conditions - first in Tunica, and then Mephis and Chicago. At the end of the 1950s, he returned to his home state and - while working on farms and raising a huge family - picked up the threads of his music.

Burnside's reputation as being a traditionalist was founded on an accident of chance - when George Mitchell sought him out in 1967 as part of his attempts to document his generation's sounds, Burnside's electric guitar was out of action and so the first recordings of his music were made using an acoustic guitar.

In the 1970s, the size of his offspring started to pay off, as his sons Joseph and Daniel formed the Sound Machine, a family group whose main function was to provide back-up for RL, building a local following and inspiring a whole new generation.

It would still be a over a decade before RL would sign a record contract - with the then-new Fat Possum records - and release a debut album, Too Bad Jim. He would go on to record over a dozen further albums, including the collaboration with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 1996's A Ass Pocket of Whiskey and, in 2004, A Bothered Mind, which would prove to be his swansong.

Heart surgery in 1999 had reduced the number of live appearances he was able to make, and Burnside had been in declining health for some time.

RL Burnside died in Memphis on Thursday. He's survived by his wife, twelve children, and the numerous grandchildren that that would imply.

[Thanks to Ladycrackerland]