Michael Burks always played a Gibson, but he keeps a coupla Strats handy too




By Steve Newton

I know a couple from Richmond who were such huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fanatics that they named their first-born child Vaughan. That’s pretty cool, but I’d like to go one better, and have my own son actually become a blues-rock guitar wizard! My trusty white Strat is ready, waiting for three-month-old Danny’s hands to grow tired of the rattle routine. Maybe I should follow the example of Frederick Burks, father of Arkansas bluesman Michael Burks. He equipped his kid with a fully functional, toddler-sized guitar, and had him strumming away at a year and a half. But just what does an 18-month-old picker play, anyway? “I was playin’ honky-tonk!” asserts Burks, on the line from a tour stop in Las Vegas. “You know, just open-string, one-note stuff.”

Oh, is that all. I was still playing open-string, one-note stuff at the age of 23! Mind you, I never had the early encouragement given to Burks, who, by the time he turned five, could earn a dollar if he figured out a tune before his dad got home from work. “That was a trick he used on me to learn a song,” recalls Burks, whose quartet plays the Yale next Thursday (June 6). “But after he found out that I could really learn how to play the songs, I didn’t get no more dollars.”

At that time, according to Burks, a buck could buy a movie, a hotdog, a drink, and a candy bar. Nowadays the 45-year-old musician plays more for pleasure than treats, as evidenced by his current CD, Make It Rain. His intense singing and playing style is reminiscent of the late, great Albert King, whom Burks once happened to meet at a music store in Little Rock. Lucky for him, the notoriously moody King was feelin’ alright at the time. “He wasn’t cranky that day,” recalls Burks, “but he was in a hurry. He had blown his speakers up the previous night, I guess, and he was lookin’ for a speaker cabinet.”

On the cover of Make It Rain, the bearded Burks is pictured bent over and grimacing, rock star–like, while his meaty fingers bend the strings on a Gibson Flying V, the same model of guitar King was famous for. Burks doesn’t favour the Flying V just because his idol did, though. “I play ’em because I like to play ’em,” he points out. “They’re a good guitar—well-made. I’ve always played a Gibson. But I keep a coupla Fender Strats handy, too.”

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