by Ted Drozdowski
I’ve had a lot of interviews I’ll never forget … backstage with Van Hagar on the first Monsters of Rock Tour, an hours-long conversation with Sonny Sharrock in a Boston restaurant where we were the only patrons, chatting with Porter Wagoner at home on his ranch, speaking with Pete Townshend about songwriting, every discussion with the brilliant Chrissie Hynde, hanging up on the smug jackasses in Television and starting a phone call with Lou Reed with a joke at his expense that actually made him chuckle. (For the record, I think Lou’s a peach.)
But the interview that really made the deepest and most enduring impression on me was my first conversation with modern Mississippi hill country blues patriarch R.L. Burnside. It was on the front porch of his home, then south of Holly Springs, Miss., and I was struck by R.L.’s sincerity, warmth and good humor, and the pride he took in discussing his music. As anyone who met R.L. learned, it was nearly impossible to dislike him. And I was as won over by his personality as I’d already been by his music. I was also struck by the awful poverty of our surroundings. After I left R.L.’s porch I promised myself that I would do everything I could to bring attention to R.L., Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill and the other north Mississippi blues artists whose raw sound was just beginning to reclaim a place in the genre at the time, in hopes that exposure would equal dollars for them. I had no idea that the friendship I began to build with R.L and others I met on that trip South would change my life, eventually, after much resistance on my part, leading me to quit playing rock and take up juke joint blues with Scissormen, leave a well-paying day job, and even move from Boston to Nashville. That afternoon on R.L.’s front porch literally changed my life. I sure do miss that old man!