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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 02:50 GMT 03:50 UK
Delta bluesman R L Burnside dies
R L Burnside
Burnside played guitar "just 'cause he wanted to"
Mississippi bluesman R L Burnside, a guitarist who only found fame late in life, has died, aged 78.

Born in the Delta town of Harmontown, he worked most of his life as a sharecropper and fisherman, only taking up music professionally when he was 65.

Mississippi Fred McDowell taught him to play in Chicago in the 1940s, and he performed in local bars for decades.

After signing to Fat Possum records in 1991, he recorded a dozen albums and toured worldwide.

Matthew Johnson, owner of the record label that made Burnside famous, said he played guitar "just 'cause he wanted to.

"He never really wanted a career, never said he did. We just sort of gave him one."

Burnside had been in declining health since heart surgery in 1999, and died in hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

'Between him and the Lord'

After growing up in the Mississippi Delta, Burnside moved north to Chicago in the 1940s, but came back south after his father and two brothers were killed in the city.

He returned to a country living, and served six months in jail after shooting a man Burnside said was trying to turn him out of his home.

"It was between him and the Lord, him dyin'," Burnside remarked in a 2002 New Yorker article.

"I just shot him in the head."

Younger following

He first recorded in the late 1960s, and his sparse, one-chord blues style was documented by the folklorist George Mitchell. After playing in bars for decades, it was only when he became the first act signed to Fat Possum records in 1991 that Burnside achieved a wider fame.

In less than a decade he recorded a dozen albums, including "Bad Luck City" and "Too Bad Jim". His final CD, "A Bothered Mind", was released last year.

He toured with a trio comprising his grandson Cedric on drums, and an "adopted" son, Kenny Brown, on guitar.

Burnside was popular with a number of younger acts, including the Beastie Boys and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Burnside and Spencer's band recorded the album "A Ass Pocket o' Whiskey" in a few days in an old log cabin, achieving a sound described by one observer as "Bo Diddley backed by the Stooges".

Some of his songs were remixed for labels such as Los Angeles' Bong Load records, which first released Beck.

Burnside is survived by his wife Alice Mae and numerous children.




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