All the great press from both his latest release and subsequent tour sparked my interest to go see blues artist Michael Burks perform at Theodoreís Night Club in Springfield, Mass. Once inside, I felt comfortable with the clubs surroundings. Itís the perfect venue to come enjoy an intimate performance by those scheduled to appear. Several blues artists were represented with posters and pictures up along the walls. Behind the stage were four large canvas paintings beautifully crafted, highlighting some well-known blues performers. The stage itself was small, yet roomy enough for Michael and his band to play comfortably. I had the opportunity to meet up with Michael and his band, just before going on stage. We spoke for a few short minutes, as it was time to start the show. Michael and I agreed to meet afterwards and continue our conversation.
Once on stage, I noticed the guitar selections made for this evenings show. Michael strapped on his black Fender Strat, while waiting off to the side were his two Gibson Flying V guitars. One, a beautiful solid color of pure golden honey, the other was more a two-tone honey burst. A slight nod of Michaelís head cued their formal introduction to the huge crowd. The lights came up and Michael went right into a searing guitar intro grabbing everyoneís undivided attention. The first set was loaded with blues standards from two of his mentors, B.B. King and Albert King, as well as several tracks off his latest CD, Make It Rain. Each song was an experience, especially watching his incredible fretwork. His fingers moved effortlessly up and down the neck of his guitar, as if gliding along on a sheer pane of glass. Michael would tip his head back ever so slightly, then close his eyes, expressing the sounds of true emotion. You could feel the pure intensity pouring right off the strings of his Stratocaster. He went somewhere deep inside himself, completely caught up in the music, playing purely from a place within, reflecting the fire in his soul.
Next, Michael really plays to the crowd. First, with this fast paced, power-packed groove, he begins to tease and flirt with the crowd at the tables in front of the stage. He started burning up these riffs, which sounded like his guitar is actually singing a verse or two. Michael walked to the edge of the stage, only inches away from the crowd seated in front of him. Smiling, going from person to person, heíd break out into an intense solo. Everyone responded to these one-on-one moments, all night long. Suddenly, he jumps back with the band, as they switch right into the next number, a real foot stompiní, boogie tune, without missing a beat. Michael comes off the stage with this high-powered axe attack, and starts walking around to every corner of the club, giving the entire crowd a close-up look. Finally, after making his way back on stage, Michael and the band wrap it up with an explosive finish. The place went absolutely crazy, what an incredible performance.
With the crowdís still buzzing from the last song, Michael turns and straps on the golden honey Flying V. Here he plays two tracks from, Make It Rain, "Got A Way With Woman" and "Everybodyís Got There Hand Out". He certainly gave us all a demonstration on the proper way a Flying V is suppose to be played. You could hear the influence of gospel with both these songs. His voice was honest and soulful, expressing the verses in a true storytelling manner. The first set ended and the band took a short break. Looking around at the crowd, I noticed people at their tables sitting in awe over what they just experienced.
Michael and the band were back to kick off the second set with a riveting performance of "Hey JoeĒóanother emotion-packed number that the crowd really enjoyed. Next, he went directly into a blistering axe attack with the hit song, "Kansas City.Ē Wayne Sharp on keyboards gave a great solo performance with this number. Michael and Wayne went into a "top this" challenge, back and forth with each other, and the crowd really responded. Michael was building a huge crescendo here with his passionate fretwork. Sure enough, he went back out into the crowd again, only this time he really let loose. Besides walking all through the nightclub, he was walking on top of the bar, then suddenly he was standing on top of a barstool. Michael was working this crowd right into frenzy. For a moment, I lost him in a sea of people, when looking back towards the stage I caught a quick glimpse of him. Michael was making his way out the front door and was playing to a large crowd that had gathered just outside the establishment. Several popular clubs in the city are located in this same area with Theodoreís. Being the weekend, thereís plenty of activity all up and down the sidewalks, including all the traffic on this one-way street. I can only imagine the look on everyoneís face when Michael Burks stepped outside to give them an impromptu performance. Certainly everyone inside the club was totally blown away with Michaelís showmanship.
Finally when back on stage, the entire crowd erupted in a thunderous applause. With their next number, "Donít You Lie To Me,Ē Michael got the whole crowd involved. He asked the ladies about their boyfriends coming home late at night, getting a big rise from all the women in the room. Next, he posed the same question to all the men about their girlfriends, getting a big response from all the guys. The crowd was up on their feet having one hell of a good time. Michael closed the evening with a high-voltage performance of, "Hit The Ground Running"óthe opening track off his latest release, Make It Rain. Honestly, you could feel the electricity vibrating all over the place. People were up on their feet, turning the front table area into jam-packed dance floor. The evening ended with everyone up on their feet, giving Michael and the band a standing ovation, no one including myself wanted the music to end. The crowd appreciated the kind of blues performance that was given here tonight by this rising star. True blues enthusiasts wonít soon forget tonightís show; theyíll be talking about Michael Burks and his music for a long time to come.
During the performance, it was clear to see how tightly-knit these guys were together, both on and off the stage. The band knew when to step back, giving Michael room, as well as when to jump right into his fiery mix. Theyíve been touring with Michael for a good stretch of time. Once the show ended, the band went right into breaking down the stage. First getting all the equipment and instruments packed away, then they proceeded to load everything out to their van. Regretfully, there just wasnít enough time to interview the band with Michael. They are all very talented musicians in their own right and have been in the business for quite some time. Michaelís band members are, Cecil Parker-Percussion, Don Garrett-Bass, and Wayne Sharp-Keyboards. After speaking with fans and signing autographs, Michael Burks came over and sat down with me as we spoke on a variety of issues.
Hereís my exclusive interview with Alligator Records recording artist Michael Burks following tonightís performance...
fm sound: First Michael, thanks for coming over and spending time, especially after your incredible performance. I really enjoyed the show. So tell me a little bit on how the tourís been going for you?
Burks: Thanks Pamela, itís our first time up here in Springfield. This is a real nice city, and the people here have been so very friendly and good to us. Everybody has treated us real good. Iíll tell ya, the tourís been going real good. All these people cominí out to see us, well, theyíve been so great. Everywhere we go weíre getting big crowds, just like we did here tonight. When I see all these people come out, just to see me play, well... Iíll tell ya, it means so much to me. Then giviní me the kinda response like tonight, well...you know, it really makes it all worthwhile to me. We love playiní for Ďem. Iím glad they had a good time, enjoyed the music. Man Iíll tell ya, itís all about the music, I just love it, Iíve been real lucky so far.
fm sound: You and the band have a week off now and your next show is in Little Rock. Tell me about going back and playing in front of the home crowd?
Burks: Yeah, weíve been on the road now, well over three weeks ya know. With all this driving, weíve been real lucky with all this good weather. So, yeah...weíve got a little break coming up, itíll feel good. Yeah, Iím looking forward to playiní back home, weíll have a good time...yea, that Little Rock crowd is crazy!(Michael busts out laughing) Really...they love their music. Going back home, seeing old friends... weíll have a great time there. With everybody coming out to see us, and people like yourself writing about me, giving me good reviews, you know it really helps out a lot.
fm sound: I noticed you and the band have a real connection, you guys are really tight.
Burks: You know, Iím not just doing it (performing) for my health, I do because I love it. Yeah, I started at a real early age, and Iíve loved it ever since. Itís not all about me either. A lot of people love what I do and enjoy it with me. Iím just one of the fortunate ones who happen to have the talent to do this. Yea, these guys over there, theyíre real good...they love it too. Yeah, weíve got it going, really though...itís all about the music.
fm sound: Michael, youíve played with some very famous blues artists along the way. Which blues artist would you still like to perform with?
Burks: Oh wow, thatís a hard one...letís see, if I had a choice, the one Iíd like to be on stage with? You know... it would have to be more than one.
fm sound: O.K., give me more than one, how about two or three?
Burks: It would be, if I had a choice...Freddie King, Albert Collins, and Albert King, all on the stage at the same time! Then you all can go on and just bury me then, (really laughing)Iíll be done.
fm sound: How about any female artists out there?
Burks: Thereís some real talented woman, letís see... I like Deborah Coleman, sheís real good, I like Susan Tedeschi, Iíve had fun with them, theyíre real good artists. Oh yeah, I canít forget my little sister (no relation, just best of friends), canít leave her out...Shemekia Copeland, man I love Shemekia. I also did a show with Trudy Lynn over in Europe, it was great meeting Trudy, I really enjoyed that.
fm sound: What was it like performing over in Europe for the very first time?
Burks: Iíll tell ya, I was a little leery about what it was gonna be like, you know. But then, after that first show, I was like... man I like this! Everybody over there, well, they took me in with open arms. Then after we left, they weíre calling my agent you know, saying, "man we want him back!" So, I wasnít gone a month and a half, and we went back over there for another tour. When we got off the plane, the promoter met us, picked us up in the bus. He looked right at me and said, "Michael...", I said, "Ugh oh...whatís wrong". He had that look ya know, then said, "Man, every one of your shows is sold-out!" I just looked at him, "Are you for real?" he goes on, "I donít know what you did... well, I know what you did when you came here the last time, people feel in love with you." I just kept lookiní at him, you know, and he kept going on, "Man, I mean every single one of your shows is sold-out!"
fm sound: You know Michael, after tonight's show, I can see why your playing to sold-out crowds. Itís about you and how the music comes right through you, honestly, I could really feel it.
Burks: Music does that to me, not only blues, but all music. You know, I canít help it, thatís how it is for me when I get playiní, especially with blues. With blues, thereís so much...(sigh) I think so much about what goes on in this world, you know, even the stuff thatís gone on in my life, you know. I canít help but think about those things a lot of times, you know, I try not to dwell on it. I try not to let those things bring me down, you know. I think of those things as life experiences, and thatís what blues is, blues is life experiences. Those things that one goes through in life, itís the truth, itís what youíve been through, what youíve lived, and thatís what I play, you know. When Iím playiní, I go into that place deep inside,(pointing to the area just below his chest) and the music... itís cominí from my heart, and my mind. I have to play whatís cominí from in there, I just canít help it. You know (chuckle)... a lot of times, I gotta bring myself back...back to the club in front of the audience. Try to do it so, you know, they wonít realize how I gotta pull myself back, the music does that to me. Iíll tell ya, of all the things Iíve been through, you know, things that happened, Iíve been blessed in so many ways. Cause Iím still doing those good things, still doiní the good things people love.
fm sound: Your on a wave right now, really going places. Where do you see yourself, letís say...four or five years from now? Have you thought much about where youíd like to be?
Burks: I hope to continue doing what Iíve been doiní, God gives me my health to keep doing what I been doiní, to carry that torch, man... I plan to stay out there. I hope to be playiní this music for a long-time, cause I love the blues, you know. Man, I wouldnít give it up for nothing in this world, you know, but things happen. I quit for a lot of years, you know.
fm sound: Thatís when you worked for Lockheed- Martin...yes?
Burks: Yeah, I stopped playing in Ď92, you know, that was hard... but Iím not gonna give it up no more. So...four, five more years from now, well, I hope to be more stable, maybe some Handyís (starts laughing). Whatever God gives me, you know. I want to keep on workiní, hopefully playiní at more and more places. Cause I really love it, you know, playing for all these people. I want to keep recording, get as much stuff out there as I can.
fm sound: Where do you see the future of blues music? Where do you see the blues headed?
Burks: I think, to be realistic about it, I think I have a really good chance to stay strong, keep the blues going. Plus thereís a lot of young players out there... not that Iím old you know (really laughing). You know, thereís these younger guys out there, and thereís some great players. I had this guy ask me, if I felt threatened by guys like...Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Johnny Lang. I looked at him and said, "Man...naa!" I think itís a Godsend cause you know, not only do they keep the blues alive, but they also bring in that younger crowd to this music. You know, they reach those kids theyíre age all the way up to kids my age, giving them the blues, man I think itís great. Plus that makes younger kids interested in music, the more you get kids interested in music, the more you help get these kids off the streets and out of trouble, you know.
fm sound: Yeah, your Dad got you started with music really early, right?
Burks: Thatís what my Dad did with me and my brothers, me and my older brother. Man itís like this, he had us practicing, we were in the house and he knew where we were. He knew we were in the back room, beatin' on the drums and guitars.
fm sound: Thatís half the battle with kids, needing something to focus on, like when you and your brother were kids.
Burks: My Father kept us focused, and it works. He didnít have to worry if we were out in the streets gettiní in trouble, you know. Nowadays, a lot of these kids donít have that. Just having someone there, you know, keeping them focused on something, thatís all. It makes all the difference, thatís one of the things my father gave to me, you know, and it works.
fm sound: With many of the legends now gone, and only a few remaining, people look to artists like yourself to keep the blues going. I mean real blues, that original sound. For example, B.B. King... Iíve seen him in a couple of commercials on TV, God love him, boy heís still going strong. Itís a lot on his shoulders though, carrying the music. What are your thoughts about someday carrying the torch?
Burks: I agree, weíve got to keep that sound alive. People need to better appreciate who B.B. King is, especially while we still have him with us, you know. Yeah, Iíve seen his Burger King commercial, and the diabetes one. He even has this commercial for a satellite cable thing where he falls out of the sky, into this barn. He dusts himself off, and they start playing his music, they start showing the different music stations available, you know, blues and pop music you get from the satellite, yeah, thatís somethiní to see. Heís such a great artist, man, I canít say enough about him, and what heís done for all of us who love the blues. You know, Iíve been real lucky, and Iím so grateful for the people in my life and the talent God has blessed me with. I hope I can have the kind of career playing the blues like B.B. King. Right now, you know, I plan to keep doing the things Iím doing. You know, stick with recording and writing more, and playing as many places as I can.
fm sound: It looks like theyíre ready to lock these doors, so first Michael, let me thank you for taking time to do the interview with me. Youíve been so kind and more than gracious with all my questions. Youíve certainly got yourself a big fan, your show tonight was really incredible, Michael, thanks again.
Michael Burksí talents reach far beyond his years. Itís true whatís been said and written, you canít fully experience the manís talent unless you attend one of his shows. When on stage, Michael Burks is a powerful performer, completely in charge of the musical current that swells inside him like a thunderstorm. When off stage, Michael Burks is a soft-spoken, gentle individual, who makes you feel right at home. Thereís an ease about him, an open honesty, making you feel as if youíve always been good friends. Michael Burks has paid his dues, proving heís more than ready to fill some shoes to solidify the future of the blues. His talents are a gift heís willing to share with anyone whoís ready to listen. It makes sense why Michaelís become such a fan favorite. He lives his life with a basic belief system of, hard work, responsibility to family, friends and community, and also his deep abiding faith. Coming from a blue-collar family, heís had his share of hard times and knows what it means to be down on your luck. Most of all, Michael never takes anything for granted, especially when it comes to his music.
Heís sincerely grateful to all those fans who purchase his music and come to see him perform. He understands how important they are to his continued success, and credits them for where he is today. That explains why he insists on each performance to be his very best. Michael wants people to feel like theyíve gotten their moneyís worth that theyíll nod their heads in satisfaction, knowing they saw one hell of a performance. Well Michael... keep on doing what your doing, from what I witnessed here tonight, people werenít just nodding their heads, they were standing up and cheering too.
Official Michael Burks Website: www.michaelburks.com
Used with permission: http://www.fmsound.org
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