Blues legend R.L. Burnside died today, September 1st, at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He was seventy-eight.
Born in Harmontown, Mississippi, Burnside became one of the perennial forbears of the Delta blues, with his
thick, rhythmic slide style and graphic lyrics reflecting his life
surrounded by poverty and violence. Burnside, himself, did jail time for murder.
He learned the blues from neighbor Fred McDowell and played for years as a star attraction in ramshackle southern clubs (some of which he owned) before critic Robert Palmer featured him in the acclaimed 1992 documentary Deep Blues. The same year, Burnside signed to Fat Possum
Records and released Bad Luck City.
During the Nineties, Burnside ventured off the track of traditional acoustic blues when he collaborated with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on 1996’s A Ass Pocket
of Whiskey. The album brought Burnside a new audience of indie-rock fans.
“People are just now beginning to realize that the blues is the roots of all the music,” Burnside told Rolling Stone in 2000. “That’s where the music all started from.”
Burnside returned to his musical roots and released six more albums, most recently 2004’s A Bothered Mind.
He is survived by his wife and twelve children.