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R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside - Blues Singer, guitarist (1926 - 2005)

Hailing from the hill country of northern Mississippi, R.L. Burnside was a genuine exponent of the droning, rhythmic guitar style characterized by its vigorous performance.

R.L. Burnside was born in Layfayette County, near Oxford, Mississippi in 1926. As a young man R.L. moved North into the neighboring Marshall County and began sharecropping. Inspired by John Lee Hooker's '50s hit “Boogie Chillun',” R.L. began singing blues and playing guitar. In addition to the Hooker 45 rpm there were other local forces that influenced R.L as well, such as Mississippi Fred McDowell and Ranie Burnette.

Fed up with the hopelessness of sharecropping, Burnside migrated to Chicago in hopes of finding economic opportunity. Chicago did not work out. In the span of one month R.L.'s father, brother and uncle were murdered. Around 1959 he returned to Mississippi to again work the farms and raise a family. He also started to play music at night and on weekends.

R.L.'s first recordings appeared on a 1967 Arhoolie compilation. Although R.L. preferred electric guitar, the fashion of the day dictated that he be recorded acoustically. These recordings earned Burnside enough of a reputation to play festivals and tours at home and abroad. Throughout the '70s and '80s R.L. played with a family band consisting of sons Joseph and Daniel as well as son-in-law Calvin Jackson, known as the Sound Machine. Though a local favorite, R.L. and the Sound Machine were barely known outside of North Mississippi.

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