Monday, March 5, 2012

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #11 – RL Burnside

Hi friends! Time for another edition of the Monday Morning Blues, & today’s feature is our penultimate entry in the Poor Boy Blues series.

Today’s artist is RL Burnside, a favorite of mine, & his version of “Poor Boy Long Way From Home” is also one of my favorites. Burnside also introduces us to the song in an electric incarnation—tho he also recorded it acoustically, I’ve always thought Burnside was at his best with an electric guitar; I’ve read that he preferred to play electric & that his acoustic recordings were done mainly to please the “folk blues” purists.  

Burnside grew up & spent most of his life in the hill country east of the Mississippi Delta region, mainly around Holly Springs, Mississippi.  His music always had a raw edge, often featuring open tunings & slide & frequently not moving from the root chord. Reportedly Burnside began playing guitar in his early 20s after hearing John Lee Hooker’s hit "Boogie Chillen,” & his music has some similarities with Hooker’s, as it also does with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s playing—in fact, McDowell was something of a mentor to Burnside. Burnside was also related to Muddy Waters by marriage, & he claimed Waters as an influence as well.

Although he was recorded in the 1960s by George Mitchell (these recordings were released on Arhoolie), he spent much of his life as a sharecropper, commercial fisherman, & tractor driver, playing local juke joints as a sideline. Burnside did make some additional recordings in the 1980s on the Swingmaster label, & he was featured in the 1990 film Deep Blues; following this he signed with Fat Possum Records, a Mississippi label with the particular mission of recording older blues players. He also recorded with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion during the 1990s.

This version of “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” is straight-ahead & driving like most of Burnside’s music. Its great strength is its simplicity, but this is simplicity of finely honed & definite gestures—a lot of folks can spend a whole lifetime playing music & not figure out how to get so “simple.” Burnside is accompanied by his grandson Cedric Burnside on drums & by slide guitarist Kenny Brown, with whom he played from the 1970s onward; he called Brown his “adopted son.”

This is the real deal, folks—enjoy!

Photo of RL Burnside (in 1984) is by Wiki Commons user Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) &  is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The picture links to its source.


  1. I like how you stated his simplicity. My brother played the same way, and it seemed like magic. This is a great song!

  2. I got introduced to RL Burnside, a few years ago, when he was played on the Bob Harris show, courtesy of the BBC. Fine music.

  3. Hi Shockgrubz & Martin

    Shockgrubz: Thanks! It's a great playing style; & while "simple by no means "easy."

    Martin: Thanks! Absolutely great music indeed.

  4. What tuning is RL's version of Poor Boy in? Thanks

    1. I haven't played along or closely studied it, but I do know that Poor Boy & variants thereof are typically played in open D (or tuned up one tone to open E)


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