Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R. L. Burnside - Father of Modern Deep Blues

R. L. Burnside (born Robert Lee Burnside, November 23, 1926 - September 1, 2005) was a North Mississippi hill country blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist who lived much of his life in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi. He played music for much of his life, but did not receive much attention until the early 1990s. In the latter half of the '90s, Burnside repeatedly recorded with Jon Spencer, garnering crossover appeal and introducing his music to a new fanbase within the underground punk blues music scene.Burnside was born in Harmontown, Mississippi, in Lafayette County. Burnside spent most of his life in the rural hill country of northern Mississippi, working as a sharecropper and a commercial fisherman, as well as playing guitar at weekend house parties. He was first inspired to pick up the guitar in his early twenties, after hearing the 1948 John Lee Hooker single, "Boogie Chillen" (which inspired numerous other rural bluesmen, among them Buddy Guy, to start playing). He learned music largely from Mississippi Fred McDowell, who lived nearby in an adjoining county. He also cited his cousin-in-law, Muddy Waters, as an influence.During the 1950s, Burnside grew tired of sharecropping and moved to Chicago, Illinois in the hopes of finding better economic opportunities. But things did not turn out as he had hoped. Within the span of one month his father, brother, and uncle were all murdered in the city, a tragedy that Burnside would later draw upon in his work,he left Chicago and went back to Mississippi to work the farms and raise a family. Burnside was convicted for murder and sentenced to six months' incarceration (in Parchman Prison [2]) for the crime. Burnside's boss at the time reputedly pulled strings to keep the murder sentence short, due to having need of Burnside's skills as a tractor driver. "I didn't mean to kill nobody," Burnside later said. "I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord."[3]
In the 1990s, he began recording for the Oxford, Mississippi, label Fat Possum Records. Founded by Living Blues magazine editor Peter Redvers-Lee and Matthew Johnson, the label was dedicated to recording ageing North Mississippi bluesmen such as Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Burnside remained with Fat Possum from that time until his death, and he usually performed with his friend and understudy, the slide guitarist Kenny Brown, with whom he began playing in 1971 and claimed as his "adopted son."In the mid 1990s, Burnside attracted the attention of Jon Spencer, the leader of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, touring and recording with this group and gaining a new audience in the process.After the death of Kimbrough and the burning of Kimbrough's juke joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi, Burnside quit recording studio material for Fat Possum,though he did continue to tour.After a heart attack in 2001, Burnside's doctor advised him to stop drinking; Burnside did, but he reported that change left him unable to play.Burnside had a powerful, expressive voice and played both electric and acoustic guitars (both with a slide and without). His drone-based style was a characteristic of North Mississippi hill country blues rather than Mississippi Delta blues. Like other country blues musicians, he did not always adhere to 12- or 16-bar blues patterns, often adding extra beats according to his preference. He called this "Burnside style" and often commented that his backing musicians needed to be familiar with his style in order to be able to play along with him.Burnside collaborated in the late 1990s with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on the albums A Ass Pocket of Whiskey and Mr. Wizard. Consequently, he gained the attention of many within this underground music scene.The 2007 Samuel L. Jackson / Christina Ricci film, Black Snake Moan is infused with countless Burnside nods, including: the Reverend R. L. character.He passed away at St. Francis Hospital on September 1, 2005 at the age of 78

6 comments:

Collector said...

I was looking for infornation about snake wine on search engines and found your site, so, do you have any related information? Snake wine is this:
http://www.asiansnakewine.com/

thanks a lot.

Rev KM Williams said...

Don't know about snake wine.

Rev KM Williams said...

But I do know about "Snake Drive" it's an RL Burnside song off his "Mr. Wizard" CD

Diatton said...

Yes, I also know about "Snake Drive", one of Burnside's greatest hits...I have never heard about "Snake Wine", anyway...

Christine said...

Love me some RL Burnside!
Have you seen this video of him? Man, what I would have given to be on that porch! :)
(7 minutes into the video)

Christine said...

Forgot the RL porch link, duh!
https://youtu.be/6TMvxIRDLws