My favorite bluesman, R. L. Burnside - Live 1984 From “R. L. Burnside with Johnny Woods (Live 1984, 1986)” DVD
01. Poor Black Mattie 02. Rolling & Tumbling 03. Peach Tree Blues 04. Skinny Woman 05. Going Down South 06. I Believe My Time Ain’t Long 07. Bad Luck And Trouble 08. Jumper On The Line 09. Ramblin’ On My Mind 10. Gone So Long 11. Long Distance Call 12. 44 Blues 13. See What My Buddy Done 14. Poor Boy 15. Sneakers Jam
Here is a modern take on the blues from a blues man,named R. L. Burnside. If you are unaware of him here’s a little information. Born Robert Lee Burnside,(November 23, 1926 – September 1, 2005), was a North Mississippi hill country blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist who lived much of his life in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi. He played music for much of his life, but did not receive much attention until the early 1990s. In the latter half of the 1990s, Burnside repeatedly recorded with Jon Spencer, garnering crossover appeal and introducing his music to a new fanbase within the underground garage rock scene.
I ask him about the man he killed and he gives a variation of his standard response: ‘I didn’t mean to kill nobody. I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head and two times in the chest. Him dying was between him and the Lord.’
It happened at a dice game long ago; Burnside had beaten the man out of $400. In court he claimed self-defence, although one of the bullets entered the back of the victim’s head. Burnside was working for a powerful white plantation owner at the time, driving a tractor. His boss wanted him back at work so he fixed things with the judge and R.L. ended up serving only six months.
Tom Hiddleston has been working on the nasal twang that was the distinctive trademark of country music legend Hank Williams, whom the star will portray in what he called ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’.
I wrote, fleetingly, last week that Hiddleston — famous for playing the scheming and vengeful Loki in three Marvel Comic movies as well as his brilliant portrait of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in Josie Rourke’s scorching production at the Donmar — will tackle the part of Williams in a new film.
Yesterday, he spoke exclusively to me about the hillbilly with the ‘crooked smile and a wary eye’ he’ll play in I Saw The Light.
The movie will begin shooting in October in Louisiana, although Hiddleston has already started learning how to sing Williams’s doleful ballads with the help of Country & Western star Rodney Crowell. Tom will have to replicate those bluesy vocals and play the guitar.
Hiddleston told me I Saw The Light will chart the singer’s life from his turbulent first marriage to Audrey Mae Sheppard in 1944, through his early radio career to his auspicious debut, in 1949, at the home of country music, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
There, Williams electrified the audience with his performance of Lovesick Blues, which reigned at No. 1 on the Billboard Country & Western charts for four months that year.
The film will get under the skin of Hank’s relationships with the aforementioned Audrey Mae, his mother Lillie, Nashville music executive Fred Rose, his band the Drifting Cowboys and second wife Billie Jean Jones Eshliman.
‘It will go all the way to his tragic death in 1953,’ Hiddleston told me. ‘He was only 29. In the intervening period, he wrote some of the greatest songs in the history of American music.’
Numbers such as Hey, Good Lookin’, Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Your Cheatin’ Heart and Take These Chains From My Heart.
‘The film is about the man behind the myth, the power of his music, the sheer voltage of his talent and charisma, and his formidable demons,’ Hiddleston continued.
‘He worked hard, played hard, lived hard — there were women, there was whiskey — but when he sang about being in the doghouse in Move It On Over, or about his heartbreak in I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, it came from an honest place.’
Marc Abraham’s screenplay ‘pulls no punches’, the actor added, and explores Williams’s ‘shattering, self-abusive relationship with alcohol and later prescription drugs’.
The singer, who suffered debilitating back pain from a congenital disorder of the spine, died of a heart attack on New Year’s Day in 1953.
Abraham, who will also direct, saw Hiddleston in Coriolanus and knew he had his man, even though the RADA-trained British thespian may seem an unlikely fit for the farm boy from Mount Olive, Alabama.
But Abraham said Tom has the rare ability to ‘transform himself’.
Hiddleston adds: ‘Hank’s life has a tragic arc, but in simple truth, he was a genius: a star that burned twice as bright and lived half as long. It’s a huge role for me and a huge responsibility. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.’
He means it too.
Tom told me: ‘I’ve already started singing and playing every day’.
Rodney Crowell, the Grammy-award winning country music legend, is helping.
‘He came down to visit me over the Easter weekend in Toronto where I was filming Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Pea" and we jammed for a day or so. It was so exciting. We had some coffee and did some talking and then we just started playing.
‘It was spine-tingling just to spend a day playing some of Hank’s greatest hits like Hey Good Lookin’ and Long Gone Lonesome Blues with such a gifted musician. He’s already expanded my vocal range and given me a few pointers about adapting my own tone to sound like Hank. Rodney has furnished me with his beautiful J45 Gibson to practice with. And he’ll be on hand throughout the shoot,’ Tom added.
He explained that Williams played rhythm guitar in 1-4-5 chord progressions that are heavily influenced by the blues greats: Mississippi John Hurt and R. L. Burnside and by country legends like Roy Acuff.
‘But his poetry, his lyrics, ache with raw vulnerability and emotion. And he sang them with all his heart.
They didn’t call him 'The Hillbilly Shakespeare’ for nothing. How Hank sang and how Hank played – that’s the work I have to do’