Michael Burks – Iron Man Blues
Burks was born in Milwaukee, but moved to Camden, Ark. where he and his brothers helped build their father’s 300-seat juke joint, Bradley Ferry Country Club. There, Burks began fronting bands, and backing some of the blues and jazz greats that passed through town. After self-releasing his first CD in 1997, Burks signed with Chicago’s Alligator Records in 2001 and releases three critically acclaimed albums. Furthermore, he’s known for playing in the mold of Albert King, a raw, powerful guitar player that had a voice to match. When it came to the blues, Mike was the real deal. And a professional in every sense of the word.
For me, I was lucky to see him play at Skipper’s in Tampa and he tore the place up! When he played, the whole place lit up. With his soulful vocals and fierce guitar playing. He gave his all to make sure we were entertained. Large or small venues, he played them all and every time you would see him perform, you noticed different little things about his playing. There was never a dull moment watching him perform live. When he played you were moved, you could feel the music right in the heart. To call him an entertainer is a mistake, he was much more!
Growing Up in a Musical Family
Born in Milwaukee in 1957, Burks began learning his instrument at an early age. Furthermore, getting inspiration from his musical family. Whether it’s his father who played the bass alongside harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson II or learning from his grandfather who was a Delta-style bluesman from Camden, Arkansas. We can only say that the blues ran through his veins and through his soul! Even more, we are thankful! By age five he’s playing alongside his father learning what he could from him as well as perusing his parents record collection.
His father would often give his young son incentive to learn songs by offering him a dollar for each tune he could successfully figure out from beginning to end (a year later he made his performance debut in front of an audience, when he joined a cousin’s band on stage).
In the early ’70s, his family moves to Arkansas and opens the Bradley Ferry Country Club. By the time the club closed in the mid-’80s, Burks briefly put his love of blues on the back burner, as he supported himself by taking a job as a mechanical technician for Lockheed Martin, although he still managed to play clubs and regional festivals.
On his way back home to Little Rock, Arkansas, after a very successful tour of Europe. He had a heart attack and died between connecting flights in Atlanta, Georgia. He was only 54 at the time. Burks earned four Blues Music Award nominations, including, most recently, the 2012 nomination for Guitarist Of The Year. He won the 2004 Living Blues magazine Critics’ Award for Best Guitarist. GuitarOne named his Alligator Records debut album, “Make It Rain”, one of the Top 200 greatest guitar recordings of all time.
According to Living Blues, “Burks burns his own signature onto almost everything he touches…he has the ability and the imagination to fuse the best of the old and the new.” Burks’ final album, Show Of Strength (on which he wrote or co-wrote five of the album’s 12 tracks), was recorded and finished just prior to his untimely death.
From the explosive opening blast of “Count On You” to the closing strains of Charlie Rich’s elegiac “Feel Like Going Home”, Burks’ signature combination of feral yet tuneful guitar work with his gritty, dynamic vocals provided a searing, emotional autobiography in blues. According to Alligator president Bruce Iglauer:
“It was my decision to leave this album as we intended it, not as a memorial to a friend and bluesman gone, but as a living, breathing statement, sent straight from Michael’s heart and soul. Although Michael is not here, the music he recorded is indeed his show of his immense strength and spirit. It will live on, confirming forever his status as one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation.”