R. L. Burnside
Born: November 23, 1926, Harmontown, Mississippi
Died: September 1, 2005
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
R. L. Burnside lived the hard-scrabble blues life he celebrated in his music. He spent much of his life laboring as a sharecropper and commercial fisherman in his hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi. On weekends, he performed in the juke joints and bars. Like his mentor, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Burnside was “discovered” and enjoyed critical acclaim later in life. He was born in Harmontown, Mississippi, a rural community nestled in the North Mississippi Hill Country. He was inspired to pick up the guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen and was also influenced by his cousin-in-law, Muddy Waters. Over the years, Burnside developed a distinctive style of blues featuring gruff vocals, a powerful, drone-like rhythm, and fluid slide guitar work. During World War II, Burnside and his family joined the Great Migration and moved to Chicago where he worked in factories. After the murder of his father, two brothers, and uncle, Burnside returned to Mississippi where he resumed working on farms. In 1967, folklorist George Mitchell recorded Burnside and released these sessions on the Arhoolie Records. In the early 1990s, Burnside appeared in the documentary “Deep Blues” and signed with Fat Possum Records. Burnside continued touring and recording with his family band until he suffered a heart attack in 2001 that left him unable to play.