Category Archives: R.L. Burnside

The Blues of underground legend R.L. Burnside

The Blues of underground legend R.L. Burnside

The music of underground legend Robert Lee “R. L.” Burnside is so divers that we could write multiple books about it. R.L. had two careers as a blues musician; one that contains the life of a performing delta blues farmer in Mississippi and one that reaches through television studios in France and the United States in the 90s. Between these two careers you will find a line of hard-edged blues that reminds you of the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Son House.

Electrified Chicago inspired Delta Blues

Burnside lived most of his life in Holy Springs Mississippi and performed in his early life in every juke joint around town with his electrified, Chicago inspired blues. R.L. Burnside created a new sound of Delta Blues. He was a neighbour of Mississippi Fred MC Dowell who also played in his band.

Long stays in Memphis and Chicago inspired him to play the blues he liked. It was the blues of guys like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and John Lee Hooker. That early R.L. Burnside sound is recognisable in songs like ‘Old/Poor Black Mattie’ and ‘Telephone Blues’.

Blues Band R.L. Burnside

When Robert Lee Burnside returned to Mississippi in 1959 he opened a bar where he played his own music. Kind of how Smokey Wilson did in L.A, but R. L. Also brewed his own Moonshine Whiskey. His band in was formed alongside Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell and harp player Johnny Woods, who you can see in the video of ‘Telephone Blues’.

He is very rhythmic and has a soulful expressive voice. He is innovative was rediscovered after the release of the documentary “Deep Blues” in 1992. In that period he also released his debut recording “Bad Luck City” on Fat Possum Records.


Deep Blues documentary R.L. Burnside

Liri_Blues_R._L._Burnside_1992 photo creative commons by Sardognunu
Blues_R._L._Burnside photo creative commons by Sardognunu

At the premiere of “Deep Blues”, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimborough performed, John Spencer was at that premiere too, he once listened to Burnside and was fan of Burnside’s latest album “Too Bad Jim”. Spencer and his backing band The Blues Explosion wanted to play with Burnside. When Spencer asked Burnside to play with him, R.L. Had no idea who these guys were. So Burnside demanded the impossible: “A ton of money and airlines and everything”. After this, Spencer contacted Matthew Johnson of Fat Possum who managed Burnside and Burnside would open for John Spencer Blues Explosion in 1995.(Billboard june 22, 1996)

The best thing of the collaboration of R.L.Burnside with John Spencer is maybe the album ‘A Ass Pocket Of  Whiskey. This album released in 1996 is a true  raw electrified blues, punk  album. Listen to songs like ‘Boogie Chillen’, ‘Snake Drive’ and ‘Have You Ever Been Lonely’.  Working with John Spencer brought Burnside to a new and younger public. It was the thing the old blues dog needed. Het performed in music studios and festivals around the United States and Europe.

After A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, the album Mr. Wizard followed  a less experimental album, more blues less punk. R.L. Burnside was a innovative musician who personally experienced the change of the blues throughout the ninetees in the Garage rock scene.

Click around and listen to his finest tunes.

RL Burnside – A Bothered Mind (full album)

R.L. Burnside’s sons hambone (1978)

R.L. Burnside: See My Jumper Hanging On the Line (1978)

RL Burnside – 44 Pistol

R. L. Burnside – Rollin and Tumblin

R.L.Burnside – it’s bad you know

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