R.L. Burnside: Late Start, Great Sound

R.L. Burnside from the cover of the 2001 album Mississippi Hill Country Blues.

R.L. Burnside from the cover of the 2001 album 'Mississippi Hill Country Blues.' hide caption

itoggle caption

Country bluesman R.L. Burnside died this week in Memphis at 78. He worked a good part of his life as a sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta. He made his first recording in his 40s and didn't become a fulltime professional musician until he was in his 60s.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside died this week in Memphis at the age of 78.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. R.L. BURNSIDE: (Singing) I'm going way away. I'm going way away. I'm going way away. I'm going way away. I'm going way away. I'm going to get away. I'm going away.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Burnside was one of the last of the rapidly dwindling population of great original country blues artists. For much of his life, R.L. Burnside worked as a sharecropper in the hills of north Mississippi. He was in his 40s before he made his first recordings--we're hearing them here--and in his mid-60s before he finally went completely professional, signing onto the Fat Possum record label.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BURNSIDE: (Singing) I'd rather be dead. I love being dead. I'd rather be dead. I love being dead. I love being dead. I think the end's around. I don't like rain. I don't like rain. I don't like rain.

WERTHEIMER: Like many Mississippi blues artists, at some point, R.L. Burnside made his way to Chicago, as he told NPR's Renee Montagne, back in 2001.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. BURNSIDE: I got up there and Muddy Water was married to my first cousin, Anna May. I go to his house about two, three nights and week and listen to him play, and every weekend he'd go be up there and be playing and I'd go with him, you know, and that's who I picked up on.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BURNSIDE: (Singing) I'm going. Going. Going way away.

WERTHEIMER: After his father and two brothers were killed in Chicago, he fled that city and went back home to Mississippi. In his later years, R.L. Burnside updated his Mississippi juke joint sound by borrowing elements from electronica and hip hop. You might have heard some of that music on "The Sopranos."

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: R.L. Burnside died this week in Memphis. He was 78.

It's 22 minutes before the hour.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.