Remembering the Smoking Work of Michael Burks
Michael Burks smelled smoke. That might be because there seemed to be a lot of smoke emanating from his guitar. But, that’s just how the man played, after all.
Burks is sadly no longer with us. He was lost to a heart attack when he was only 55 years old. But during his time here with us, he was a successful blues guitarist that brought musical joy to thousands of people.
Burks’ career began when he opened and started playing at his own Juke Joint that he built with his father. By the end of his career, he was a 5 time Blues Music Award nominee for his work released on Alligator Records.
Burks’ nickname was “The Iron Man” because of his passionate and frenetic live shows. He also had a serious, serious work ethic – an “always on the road” type, if you will. But musically speaking, he could be sweet and subtle at the same time as he was mixing his grittier, harder-edged Chicago-influenced style. Think Muddy Waters and Bobby “Blue” Bland merged into one harmonious, infectious Chicago soul blues concoction.
Burks released his debut album on Vent Records in 1999, From the Inside Out. After this, he moved to Alligator Records where he released a string of very successful blues albums. 3 of those records hit the top 20 on the blues chart. 2012’s Show of Strength and its immediate predecessor Iron Man both climbed as high as #4 on the charts.
The Man and the Bluesman
Michael Burks has been described as a man who embraced every part of the blues. He loved the music deeply and fully.
And the critics loved him too. Billboard Magazine called him a purveyor of, “Diamond-hard blues-rock… fierce, original, beautiful guitar and an exquisite growl of a voice… powerhouse blues that strikes like a hammer blow.”
And according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Burks was, “A flamethrower guitarist… a complete bluesman: songwriter, singer, riff-master, bandleader, and showman… Savage fury and heartfelt tenderness.”
He had a blue collar work ethic. He would log thousands of miles per year driving his touring van. This led to the cultivation of a passionate, devoted fanbase. And the accolades piled up. GuitarOne named Burks’ debut album Make It Rain one of the top 200 greatest guitar recordings ever.
In 2013, Burke won 2 Blues Music Awards posthumously for his album “Show of Strength” in the categories of “Contemporary Blues Album of the Year” and “Album of the Year.”
We miss you, Mr. Burks, and we hope you’re rockin’ it hard up there in Blues Heaven.
– Keeping the Blues Alive,
Published on March 16, 2017
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