RL Burnside was a real blues music pioneer, recognized for his gritty, no-holds-barred guitar style and deep, expressive vocals. Burnside left an enormous effect on the blues world over several decades, inspiring other performers with his distinct approach and sound.
1. Who Is RL Burnside?
RL Burnside was a blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Harmontown, Mississippi, who was born on November 23, 1926. He was a well-known character in the North Mississippi Hill country blues scene, recognized for his distinct guitar and vocal style.
Burnside began his career playing at local house parties and juke joints, but his big break came in the 1990s, when he collaborated with bands like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Fat Possum record label. Throughout his career, he recorded several albums, including “Too Bad Jim” and “A Bothered Mind.”
Burnside’s music was distinguished by its raw and stripped-down sound, which frequently included simply Burnside’s vocals and guitar with little percussion. His songs frequently dealt with personal experiences and hardships, as well as living in the Mississippi Delta.
Burnside died on September 1, 2005, at the age of 78, in Memphis, Tennessee, leaving a legacy as one of the most prominent personalities in the history of North Mississippi blues.
2. 5 Facts About RL Burnside
- In the early 1950s, RL Burnside learnt to play the guitar from his neighbor, Mississippi bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell had a significant effect on Burnside’s music.
- Burnside didn’t begin recording until the 1960s, when folklorist George Mitchell discovered him and recorded him for the Arhoolie label. However, until they were republished in the 1990s, Burnside’s early albums received little attention.
- Burnside’s music was noted for its distinctive blend of traditional Mississippi Delta blues with modern elements such as funk, soul, and rock. He was greatly influenced by John Lee Hooker’s music, for whom he briefly opened on tour.
- Burnside was a farmer and fisherman in addition to his music profession. He was known to bring a fishing pole on tour and frequently spoke about his passion of fishing in interviews.
- Burnside’s song “It’s Bad You Know” was included in the popular HBO series “The Sopranos” and helped bring his music to a broader audience. In 2000, Burnside received a W.C. Handy Blues Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for his album “Burnside on Burnside.”
3. What Was RL Burnside Most Successful Songs ?
RL Burnside was a very important and regarded artist, yet he never achieved considerable financial success. However, because to their use in TV series, movies, and advertisements, several of his songs have garnered increased popularity and exposure in recent years. Here are a handful of RL Burnside’s most popular and widely distributed songs:
- “It’s Bad You Know” – This song became well-known after appearing on the blockbuster TV program “The Sopranos.” It is now one of Burnside’s best-known songs.
- “Shake ‘Em On Down” – This peppy, driving music has been recorded by a slew of artists and used in a number of films and television series.
- “Let My Baby Ride” – This funky, groove-driven music gained popularity after it was featured in a Volkswagen ad in the early 2000s.
- “Poor Black Mattie” – A fan favorite, this traditional Delta blues piece has been performed by various musicians over the years.
- “See My Jumper Hanging On the Line” – This mesmerizing, stripped-down piece sprang to prominence after appearing on the soundtrack of the film “The Big Lebowski”.
Burnside’s work has been influential and highly appreciated among blues enthusiasts and artists for decades, even though it did not attain widespread commercial success during his lifetime.
4. Has RL Burnside Won Any Awards For His Music?
Yes, during his lifetime, RL Burnside garnered various prizes and distinctions for his contributions to the blues genre. The following are some of the most noteworthy prizes and distinctions he has received:
- W.C. Handy Award – Burnside received this award in 1996 for his album “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey,” which he recorded with the band The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
- Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts – Burnside received this award in 1999, in recognition of his significant contributions to the cultural heritage of Mississippi.
- Blues Music Award – Burnside was posthumously awarded the “Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year” award at the 2007 Blues Music Awards.
- Grammy Award – Burnside was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001 in the category of “Best Traditional Blues Album” for his album “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down”.
Overall, Burnside’s music has been widely acknowledged and acclaimed for its raw force and sincerity, and he remains one of the most influential players in North Mississippi blues history.
5. Who Played Guitar With RL Burnside?
RL Burnside played guitar, and his distinct approach was a trademark of his work. He did, however, work with a number of other musicians over his career, including:
- Kenny Brown – A guitarist who appeared on several of Burnside’s final albums and live appearances.
- Cedric Burnside is RL Burnside’s grandson who played drums alongside him and eventually became a great musician in his own right.
- RL Burnside’s son, Duwayne Burnside, performed guitar on several of his later songs.
- T-Model Ford – Another Mississippi blues musician who performed regularly with Burnside in the 1990s and early 2000s.
- Junior Kimbrough – Another Mississippi blues performer who influenced Burnside’s style greatly. They performed together on occasion.
These are just a handful of the musicians that have performed alongside RL Burnside over the years. Burnside was noted for his willingness to collaborate with other musicians, and his music continues to inspire and influence a new generation of blues performers.
6. What Kind Of Blues Is RL Burnside?
RL Burnside is most known for his contributions to the North Mississippi Hill Country blues style. This blues style is distinguished by a raw, stripped-down sound that incorporates repeated rhythms, hypnotic grooves, and forceful guitar playing. Hill Country blues developed in northern Mississippi, and Burnside was a renowned practitioner of the genre. He was noted for his distinct guitar style, which included elements of Delta blues, funk, and rock & roll. Burnside’s music frequently contained basic, repeating chord progressions and lyrics about the ups and downs of ordinary existence. Burnside’s work is a powerful depiction of the North Mississippi Hill Country blues style, which continues to impact musicians and listeners worldwide.
7. What Disease Does RL Burnside Have?
RL Burnside had a number of health issues in the years preceding up to his death. He was diagnosed with emphysema, a lung ailment that makes breathing difficult. He also suffered from cardiac difficulties and had a heart attack in 2001, forcing him to miss numerous tour dates. Burnside also had diabetes, a chronic illness that impairs the body’s capacity to manage blood sugar levels. Burnside continued to perform and record music despite his health concerns until his death in 2005, at the age of 78. He died at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, of heart failure.
8. How Many Children Does RL Burnside Have?
According to many reports, RL Burnside had at least 13 children. Some sources believe he had additional children, as he was known to have had multiple partnerships during his life. Duwayne Burnside, Garry Burnside, Joseph Burnside, Dexter Burnside, Daniel Burnside, Calvin Jackson, Kenneth Burnside, Melvin Burnside, Roberta Hurley, Linda Burks, Rhoda Mitchell, Mildred Williams, and Alice Mae Taylor are among Burnside’s children. Many of Burnside’s children and grandkids are also musicians, carrying on the family’s musical history.