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See My Jumper Hanging On The Line

R. L. Burnside


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Robert Lee Burnside


R. L. Burnside at performs at his home in Independence, Mississippi, shot by Alan Lomax, Worth Long, and John Bishop in August, 1978.

Robert Lee Burnside spent most of his life working as a sharecropper and a commercial fisherman in North Mississippi he was first inspired to pick up the guitar in his early twenties, after hearing the 1948 John Lee Hooker single, "Boogie Chillen". Burnside learned music largely from Mississippi Fred McDowell, who lived nearby in an adjoining county. He also cited his cousin-in-law, Muddy Waters, as an influence.

Burnside grew tired of sharecropping and moved to Chicago a short time later, but things did not turn out as he had hoped. Within the span of one year his father, two brothers, and uncle were all murdered in the city, a tragedy that Burnside would later draw upon in his work, particularly in his interpretation of Skip James's "Hard Time Killing Floor" and the talking blues "R. L.'s Story", the opening and closing tracks on Burnside's 2000 album, "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down." Around 1959, he left Chicago and went back to Mississippi to work the farms and raise a family.

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