R.L. Burnside “First Recordings”

Born in 1926, R.L. Burnside spent much of his life playing music, although he didn’t gain attention for his playing (or his recordings, for that matter) until the 1990’s, thanks to the efforts of Fat Possum. Living in Mississippi, Burnside worked as a sharecropper, commercial fisherman, and tractor driver. Around 1959, Burnside was convicted for killing a man at a dice game and served time. Years later, Burnside commented on this saying, “I didn’t mean to kill nobody… I just meant to shoot the son-of-a-bitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.”

First Recordings is a Fat Possum reissue of the complete recordings made by George Mitchell for Arhoolie records (Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams…). The recordings were made in 1968 and feature a solo R.L. Burnside with his guitar playing in his living room.  These recordings gave birth to his career as a recording artist. Talking about meeting Mitchell, Burnside recollects: “They brought him over to my house and he come up there and asked me could I play and could he record it… He brought some whiskey and a case or two of beer. We sat up until one or two that night and finally got it done.”

This recording is a no-frills, raw and uncut performance captured onto tape. One listen and you will hear why Burnside is the real deal. This collection is a must-have for any acoustic blues fan. The guitar playing is hauntingly sweet and easily recalls Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins. The songs are hypnotizing and intense, with an inescapable darkness leaving you spellbound. The sound is raw, but so is the playing. And that is exactly the point.

 First Recordings is a limited edition 180 gram vinyl. The LP I received had little to no surface noise (although the recordings themselves are another story). The vinyl is available from Fat Possum Records.


Joseph Weiss is a musician, recording engineer, and composer. He is a vinyl monster, has a weakness for tubes, and believes that you should always trust your own ears.

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