Burnside was born November 21, 1926, in Harmontown, Mississippi, and spent most of his life in the north Mississippi hill country, where he worked as a sharecropper and a commercial fisherman and played guitar at weekend house parties. In 1968, noted folklorist George Mitchell recorded Burnside for the first time.
In 1991 Burnside was the first artist signed to then-fledgling Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi. His debut, Too Bad Jim," was produced by former New York Times pop critic Robert Palmer. Along with his friend, neighbor, and label-mate Junior Kimbrough, Burnside was one of the most popular and important blues musicians to emerge in the last two decades. He recorded the crossover collaboration A Ass Pocket of Whiskey" with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in 1996 and became a cult hero.
In 1998, music from Come On In" was featured in several movies and television shows, including The Sopranos. Burnside sold hundreds of thousands of records in his lifetime.
He is survived by his wife Alice Mae, twelve children, and numerous grandchildren.