He was born Robert Lee, his friends called him Rule. But we know him as R.L. Burnside.
R.L. lived most of his life in what’s called the hill country—Northern Mississippi just east of the Delta. That means he was steeped in some pretty original—and killer—music. Like the slide and drone of the legendary Mississippi Fred McDowell. R.L. first heard Mississippi Fred when he was 8 years old. At 16 R.L. was taking lessons from him, and by 21 was playing with McDowell onstage.
But it took a while for R.L. to make it in music. He bounced around a bit, went to Chicago, moved back to Mississippi, killed a man and landed in Parchman Farm Prison. Got released and went back to life as a tractor driver. All the while he worked on his playing—droning single chord numbers to back his powerful voice—which only got richer with age. Some say Mississippi Fred never really championed him because he was worried R.L. posed too much competition.
So it wasn’t till much later on that R.L. got his due. He was recorded for the first time in 1967. It took til the eighties for him to hit his stride. Largely thanks to the fine folks at Fat Possum records. And R.L. became one of the most beloved paragons of modern upcountry blues.
But enough from me. Here’s the raw power of R.L. Burnside.