Thursday, September 15, 2005
By Linda Jones
We got quite a few emails last week asking why we didnt have anything on R.L. Burnsides death in the South Reporter.
The newspaper is printed around 5 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, so by mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, were hopefully finishing up everything and saving pages.
I didnt hear about Burnsides death until late Tuesday afternoon; so the world-renowned bluesmans passing went unmentioned but not unnoticed.
I never met R.L., but have enjoyed his music for many years in fact, since Id met another old blues musician Junior Kimbrough.
Id never been a huge blues fan until I went to Kimbroughs juke joint to do a story on him. The man himself was impressive. His music though...it 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 Palmers request, they signed R.L. Burnside. Palmer produced Burnsides first album Too Bad Jim which went on to become one of the most respected blues albums of the 90s. Palmer also produced Junior Kimbroughs 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 couldnt 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 couldnt go, but Im 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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