Thursday, September 15, 2005

Close to Nowhere
By Linda Jones

Music man...

We got quite a few emails last week asking why we didn’t have anything on R.L. Burnside’s death in the South Reporter.

The newspaper is printed around 5 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, so by mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, we’re hopefully finishing up everything and saving pages.

I didn’t hear about Burnside’s death until late Tuesday afternoon; so the world-renowned bluesman’s passing went unmentioned — but not unnoticed.

I never met R.L., but have enjoyed his music for many years — in fact, since I’d met another “old” blues musician Junior Kimbrough.

I’d never been a huge blues fan until I went to Kimbrough’s “juke joint” to do a story on him. The man himself was impressive. His music went to your bones.

Burnside came to fame in 1991 when journalist Robert Palmer did a documentary and soundtrack called “Deep Blues” on the music of the Delta.

Fat Possum Records in Oxford was still a newish record company and at Palmer’s request, they signed R.L. Burnside. Palmer produced Burnside’s first album “Too Bad Jim” which went on to become one of the most respected blues albums of the ’90s. Palmer also produced Junior Kimbrough’s “All Night Long.”

I was amazed while reading all the homage paid to Burnside to realize that he was from my part of the world. He grew up in Harmontown and spent much of his life there. He tried playing the harmonica as a young man, but couldn’t master it, so he picked up a guitar at age 16 and, as they say, “the rest is history.” He was quoted as saying his biggest influence was blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell, who lived nearby.

Burnside moved away for a while, mingling with the likes of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. After family tragedies and a stint in prison, Burnside moved back to Mississippi and worked as a farm hand while performing at house parties and juke joints.

In 2000, Burnside won the Handy Award for male traditional blues artist. He appeared in several films, including “Big Bad Love.” His music is also on the soundtrack of the HBO series, “The Sopranos.”

Burnside married Alice Mae Taylor Burnside in 1950. They had 12 children, 35 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

Burnside was buried Saturday afternoon at Free Springs CME Church Cemetery — which is about a half mile down the road from my church, Free Springs United Methodist Church.

Over 300 mourners were at Rust College for his funeral. I couldn’t go, but I’m betting there was some good blues music in the Doxey Auditorium that day — celebrating the life of a man who had become a blues legend — and he will not be forgotten.

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