As Mississppi deals with the loss associated with Hurricane Katrina, they lost one of their greats on September 1, 2005. R.L. Burnside, one of the great Mississippi delta blues singers and musicians, passed away after declining health following heart surgery in 1999.
I was first introduced to his music by a friend in 1999. I honestly did not like the blues much at the time, but could appreciate it. Burnside’s music was different though. Just as Johnny Cash‘s music was reinvented and introduced to my generation, Burnside enjoyed a similar resurgence. His blues was remixed for a new generation. He signed to Fat Possum Records in the early 1990s, which was created for aging bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and himself. He recorded A Ass Pocket of Whiskey in 1996 for indie music label Matador Records with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who modernized blues themselves by infusing it with flavors of rock and hip hop.
The first season of The Sopranos featured the Burnside tune “It’s Bad You Know,” which also made it onto the HBO series’s first soundtrack. I prefer “Shock Dub,” which made it onto the second Sopranos soundtrack, “Pepper & Eggs.” It is hypnotic, like much of Burnside’s stuff, and it puts a lot of the crap kids listen to today to shame.
In 2004, he released “A Bothered Mind,” which Rolling Stone gave a not-too-shabby three stars. Kid Rock and rapper Lyrics Born help out on the album, but reviewer Tom Moon wishes they didn’t. It is a fine line when you take something as classic and raw as the blues and try to modernize it. For the most part, I think it works with Burnside. If you want the pure blues that he is rooted in, check out “Burnside On Burnside,” a live album from 2001, which showcases just that.
Either way, the man was genius. He is a good introduction to the blues for my generation. As he wished on his album title for 2000’s “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,” I only hope he’s doing just that. Rest on old man.