R.L. Burnside

One of the greatest of the "delta" bluesmen, Burnside has been my favorite since I first heard the Arhoolie acoustic record. R.L. "Rural" Burnside was born on November 21, 1926 in Oxford, Mississippi. He died on September 1, 2005. Like Fred McDowell, he was from the northern Mississippi hill country, rather than the actual delta. Burnside learned some guitar from McDowell as well as from Son Hibbler, Ranie Burnette, Willie Thomas, and Jessie Vortis, who were all neighbors of his. He was also influenced by John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters. He lived in Chicago and Memphis before settling in Mississippi in 1959. He opened a small bar where he played his music and sold homemade whiskey. After his first recordings in 1967, he did not tour or record until 1979. Like most of the Delta bluesmen, he did a lot of hard work, including picking cotton and plowing fields. He did not really receive much attention until his Fat Possum records were released in the mid-nineties. The Fat Possum label has been single-handedly responsible for a recent revolution in awareness of and access to modern Delta blues music (or more accurately North Mississippi Hill Country blues music). Burnside is the most well-known of all the Fat Possum artists. He toured into his last years, with Kenny Brown on second guitar and his grandson, Cedric Burnside, on drums. He came to VZD's in OKC on September 5, 1997 for two shows. I went to both shows, which were both awesome. I got to meet him and talk with him. When shaking hands he said "Proud to meet you", which I think is what he usually says to everyone he meets. I got to see him again when he came to Tulsa for the Blues Festival in May, 1999. Still cookin'. The First Recordings record is some of the best acoustic blues guitar ever recorded and my top favorite record of all time. I would also recommend picking up Too Bad Jim and Come On In for starters. Wish I was in Heaven Sitting Down, is also cool. Be sure to check out the Fat Posssum documentary DVD, You See Me Laughin', which covers Burnside and the rest of the gang. Burnside rocks and grooves.

Some Links:

Fat Possum - R.L Burnside Page      Fat Possum - Main Page

Goin' Down South (Lots more links here)

Review of 12/98 show

Delta Boogie

Kenny Brown's Website

Article from Blues Access - Fall 1999

CD Discography:

Probably pretty much a complete listing of CD releases (as of 06/2005).

Mississippi Delta Blues, Volume 2 - Blow My Blues Away (1994) Arhoolie CD 402
Ten songs by R. L. Burnside on solo acoustic guitar. These are the first recordings of Burnside, recorded in 1967 by George Mitchell. Four of the songs on this CD are previously unreleased. The others were available on the Arhoolie LP of the same name. Burnside shares this CD with Joe Calicott and Houston Stackhouse. The collection of Burnside's songs on this record is among the most incredible and unique delta blues ever recorded. Lots of one-chord trance/drone with simple yet complex rhythms. To me this was the holy grail - I knew there must be some ultimate sound of one man/one guitar delta blues. There are several other recordings of acoustic Burnside (as detailed below). In my opinion, this is the best one. This is my favorite record in the world. See Arhoolie website for more details. NOTE - this Arhoolie CD has been out of print since 2001 or so, and has been reisued on Fat Possum under the title First recordings - with even more songs! (see below). The Songs: Poor Black Mattie, Long Haired Doney, Going Down South, Skinny Woman, I's Be Troubled, Catfish Blues, See My Jumper Hangin' Out on the Line, I Rolled and I Tumbled, Walking Blues, Nightmare Blues.

Bad Luck City (1993) Fat Possum
Currently out of print. I have not heard this one yet.

Too Bad Jim (1994) Fat Possum
Produced by Robert Palmer. Burnside plays electric guitar with his band on this record. A couple of these songs also appear on the Arhoolie record in acoustic versions, which provides interesting comparisons. This is classic Burnside and probably the best recording of his modern electric sound, as opposed to the older acoustic stuff or the newer remixed stuff. The CD has been issued at different times with three different covers: green, white and blue, with different cover art.
The Songs: Shake 'Em On Down, When My First Wife Left Me, Short-Haired Woman, Old Black Mattie, Fireman Ring the Bell, Peaches, Miss Glory B., .44 Pistol, Death Bell Blues, Goin' Down South.
Read about it or order at Amazon.com
Read more or order from Fat Possum

A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996) Fat Possum / Matador
Although labelled as an R.L. Burnside record, this is really almost more of a Jon Spencer record. Jon and his band turn this into quite a noise festival. I don't recommend it for everyone. Of course it is essential for Burnside fans. This record brought a lot of attention to Burnside among younger rock and roll fans. Does not seem to be mentioned at either Matador or Fat Possum's websites, but still at Amazon as of 06/04. The Songs: Goin' Down South, Boogie Chillen, Poor Boy, 2 Brothers, Snake Drive, Shake 'Em On Down, The Criminal Inside Me, Walkin' Blues, Tojo Told Hitler, Have You Ever Been Lonely?
Read about it or order at Amazon.com.

Mr. Wizard (1997) Fat Possum/Epitaph
Five songs with his regular band, two with the Jon Spencer guys, and two with Burnside alone on electric guitar. Excellent record.
The Songs: Over the Hill, Alice Mae, Georgia Women, Snake Drive, Rollin' & Tumblin', Out on the Road, Highway 7, Tribute to Fred, You Gotta move.
Read about it or order it on Amazon.com. Read more or order from Fat Possum

Acoustic Stories (1997) M.C. Records
Solo acoustic, recorded in 1988 at a studio in New York City.
The Songs: When My First Wife Left Me, Death Bell Blues, Skinny Woman, Monkey in the Pool Room, Hobo Blues, Walking Blues, Long Haired Doney, Poor Black Mattie, Meet Me In the Bottom, Miss Glory B, Kindhearted Woman Blues.
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com. Read about it or order it on MC Records.

Mississippi Blues (1997) Arion
Burnside alone on acoustic guitar. This French import is a CD reissue of a 1984 LP. Excellent record.
The Songs: Jumper Hanging Out on the Line, Sweet Little Angel, Long Haired Doney, Nightmare Blues, Poor Black Mattie, Catfish Blues, Death Bells, Dust My Broom, Bad Luck and Trouble, Rolling and Tumbling, When My First Wife Quit Me.
Amazon had this at one time, but no longer seems to.

Sound Machine Groove (07/22/1997) Highwater/Hightone HMG 6501
Recorded in 1979 and 1980 in Memphis by David Evans. My least favorite of the records on this page.
The Songs: Shake Little Baby, Rolling and Tumbling, Bad Luck City, Going Down South, Sound Machine Groove, Sitting on Top of the World, Begged for a Nickel, Can't Let You Go, Jumper Hanging Out on the Line, Searching for My Baby, Long Haired Doney, Pretty Woman, Goin' Away Baby.
Read about it or order it on Amazon.com.

Rollin' Tumblin' (EP) (05/08/1998) Bong Load Records
Electric Burnside remixed by Tom Rothrock. Very interesting. Looks to be out of print.
Rollin' Tumblin' (remix), Rollin' Tumblin' (AJM3 remix), Goin' Down South (remix), Sht Bug, Rollin' Tumblin' (original).
Read about it or order it on Amazon.com.

Come On In (1998) Fat Possum
More remixes by various DJs, as well as a couple of undoctored tracks and a couple of solo tracks. A very unique record. Highly recommended, one my favorite records. Blues purists may not like it. This record broadens Burnside's audience again. It's Bad You Know is on the soundtrack to the Sopranos TV show.
The Songs: Been Mistreated, Come On In (live), Let My Baby Ride, Don't Stop Honey, It's Bad You Know, Just Like a Woman, Come On In (Part 2), Rollin' Tumblin' (Remix), Please Don't Stay, Shuck Dub, Come On In (Part 3), Heat.
Read about it or order it on Amazon.com. Also, here is an article about this record from Amazon.com. Read more or order from Fat Possum

My Black Name A-Ringin' (1999) Adelphi / Gene's CDs
Solo acoustic guitar with some second guitar by Jesse Vortis and harp by Red Ramsey. Recorded in October, 1969 in Independence, MS and Memphis, TN by Gene Rosenthal. Generous notes in the CD booklet.
The Songs: Goin' Down South, Two Trains Runnin', Sat Down on My Bed and Cried, Nine Days in Jail, Long Haired Doney, Hobo Blues, My Black Name A-Ringin', Catfish Blues, See My Jumper, Peach Tree Blues, Goin' Away Blues, Poor Boy, Tom Wilson's Place.

Hill Country Blues   (2001) Fat Possum
Also Swingmaster CD 2201 (Dutch import)
Reissue of an older LP. 19 songs recorded in 1980/1982/1984 except 3 songs recorded in 1967 by George Mitchell.
This is all solo acoustic guitar. There's a couple of really cool songs that aren't on any other Burnside records. My favorites are Gone So Long and Miss Maybelle. Details from Swingmaster's website
Read more or order from Fat Possum

Going Down South   Swingmaster CD 2203
Dutch import CD reissue of older LP. 5 songs by Burnside, 5 by Ranie Burnette, 5 by Johnny Woods. All recorded in early to mid 80's
Details from Swingmaster's website

Wish I Were In Heaven Sitting Down (2000) Fat Possum
Another surprise from Fat Possum. Burnside sings every song but does not play any guitar. Very unique record. Lots of it has a modern blues/soul sound. Various musicians, producers and DJs are featured instead of Burnside's guitar and his band. The focus on his vocals (including story telling) captures a lot of his soul. Very cool record.
Read about it or order it from Amazon.com
Read more or order from Fat Possum

Giants of Country Blues Guitar - Volume 2 Wolf Records 120.917 CD
This compilation includes six R.L Burnside songs - Long Haired Doney, When My First Wife Left Me, Poor Black Mattie, Jumper On The Line, Rollin' And Tumblin', I's Be Troubled. I think the songs were recorded in 1975. This is an Austrian import and seems to be kind of hard to find. Have not yet seen or heard it myself. For some reason, Amazon carries Volumes 1 and 3 of the series but not Volume 2. All three records probably have lots of music of interest to fans of delta blues. More details may be at the Wolf Records website, but I found no info on it there. Wolf Records website: www.wolfrec.com

Well Well Well (03/27/2001) M.C. Records
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com
Read about it or order it on MC Records.

Burnside on Burnside (10/23/2001) Fat Possum
A live recording from Jauary 2001 at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. With Kenny Brown and Cedric Burnside.
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com.
Read more or order from Fat Possum

No Monkeys on This Train (02/11/2003) Hightone
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com.

First Recordings (06/10/2003) Fat Possum
A reissue of the original George Mitchell recordings as described above (first CD listed). This CD features the complete recordings, some of the 14 songs have not been issued before.

Burnside's Darker Blues (11/25/2003) Fat Possum
According to Amazon, this is a 2-disc compilation of other artists (plus Burnside) covering Burnside songs. According to Fat Possum's website, this is a 7-song EP by Burnside, which was once only available with a photography book.
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com.
Read more or order from Fat Possum

A Bothered Mind (08/17/2004) Fat Possum
The Songs: Detroit Boogie Pt1, See What My Buddy Done, Shake 'Em On Down, Goin' Down South, My Name Is Robert Too, Someday Baby, Go To Jail, Bird Without A Feather, Glory Be, Goin' Away Baby, Rollin' and Tumblin', Stole My Check, Detroit Boogie Pt 2.
Read about it or order it at Amazon.com.
Read more or order from Fat Possum

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Revised 09/01/05.      Links checked 06/27/04.      Page been here since '99.