R. L. Burnside followed the path of many great bluesmen, from the hills of Mississippi to the city of Chicago, but unlike most country blues singers his’burnside style’ , like that of John Lee Hooker, had tones of hypnotic African music of West Africa.
Few chord changes, repeated bass lines, some ‘toasting’ of great stories (‘Tojo told Hitler’) and even in his later career, subtle turntabalism in the background.
He remained relatively unkown until the 90’s when he joined Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on Tour
He also had blues cred: he was convicted for murder in the 50’s:
"I didn't mean to kill nobody, I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord."
Burnside was first inspired by hearing John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillin’, as was the master of electric blues, Buddy Guy. He also learned directly from the great Mississippi Fred McDowell, who lived close by in his early days.
His best album: the brilliantly named A Ass Pocket Full of Whiskey (1996),
Fav tracks: Bad Luck City, Georgia Wimmin, Let My Baby Ride, The Criminal Inside Me
He died in 2005.
Image: Courtesy Matador