RL Burnside | Everything you need to know about Blues Music
RL Burnside was a blues musician born on November 23, 1926, in Harmontown, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar in his youth and was heavily influenced by Mississippi Fred McDowell, as well as local artists Ranie Burnette and Son Hibler. After a brief stint in Chicago, Burnside returned to Mississippi, where he spent much of his adult life as a cotton sharecropper and played music mostly on weekends.
In 1967-68, folklorist George Mitchell recorded Burnside, as well as other North Mississippi artists, for a documentation of distinctive musical styles. Six of Mitchell’s recordings of Burnside appeared on the 1969 Arhoolie compilation album “Mississippi Delta Blues, vol. 2.” Burnside received relatively little attention in blues circles aside from occasional small tours performed mostly locally and appearances at juke joints until the early 1990s.
In the early 1990s, Burnside’s label, Fat Possum Records, employed a unique marketing strategy that helped him gain popularity in the blues world. Burnside’s live sound was captured on the 1994 Fat Possum CD “Too Bad Jim,” recorded at Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint in Chulahoma. Music scholar and critic Robert Palmer produced both this CD and Burnside’s first Fat Possum CD, “Bad Luck City,” which was released in 1992.
Burnside’s first two Fat Possum CDs were well received by critics but sold poorly. Fat Possum embarked on a new marketing strategy on the 1996 CD “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey” by teaming Burnside with the alternative band Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion and various outside producers who utilized modern technologies such as sampling and looping. This album introduced Burnside to alternative rock circles. At the same time, he began appearing as a headliner at international blues festivals, performing with Kenny Brown on second guitar and his young grandson, Cedric Burnside, on drums.
Burnside died on September 1, 2005, and was buried in Harmontown. Many family members, including his sons, Duwayne and Garry; grandson, Cedric; and his “adopted” son, Kenny Brown, have carried on his legacy through recordings and live performances. His music continues to be celebrated by blues enthusiasts worldwide.