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R.L. Burnside
@ The Minnesota Zoo, August 1, 1998

R.L. Burnside
Minnesota Zoo, 8/1/98
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved
At 71 years "young," bluesman R.L. Burnside is experiencing the greatest success of his career. Burnside has spent most of his life around Holly Springs, Mississippi where he plays a style of raw, elemental country blues with an intensity reminiscent of his former neighbor and friend Fred McDowell. Powerful, hypnotic, driving slide guitar, played with reckless abandon is Burnside's trademark. His music was born in the isolated wooded hill country of northern Mississippi and has remained almost unchanged over the past 45 years. Burnside's playing was influenced early on by Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters (his cousin was married to Muddy). His music has maintained that raw, juke joint edge to it rather than becoming more "citified" like other blues that have made the transition from rural to urban life.

Burnside, along with his friend and neighbor Junior Kimbrough (who passed away recently), is continuing a country blues tradition that reminds its listeners of the early days of rural country blues. Touring on the release of his most recent album, "Mr. Wizard," Burnside's audiences find him to be a totally delightful performer. He is very warm, gracious and open. On stage he is full of mischievous fun, constantly cracking jokes, finishing each song with his famous "well, well, well," and definitely having a good time. Actually I think the first words out of his mouth when he took his seat on stage at the recent Minnesota Zoo show was "well, well, well." The crowd just loved him and were joining him with a chorus of "well, well, wells" after just a few songs.

Burnside, who opened the show for Bernard Allison, was joined by Kenny Brown on guitar and grandson Cedric Burnside on drums. Together Brown and Burnside play some of the nastiest, meanest slide guitar you will ever hear. About half way through his set R.L. whispered something to Kenny Brown, got up from his chair and walked off stage. Kenny and Cedric just continued to play as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on and a few minutes later R.L. rejoined them saying "I had to talk to a man about a horse you know." I guess when nature calls there’s no time like the present. That was a very funny episode and just highlights what a down to earth, likable guy Burnside is.

When he comes to town again be sure to catch his show. This was raw, foot tapping, electric country blues at its best!

See Interview with R.L. Burnside and Kenny Brown.

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
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