Believe it or not, Henry and I absolutely HATE doing tribute shows. We love doing shows where we can showcase an artist, but a tribute show just reminds us of the life and artistry that we’ve recently lost. Far too many of the giants of blues have come to the end of their journey, and while we still have their music – brief songs that give us a glimpse into their very soul – we don’t have the artists themselves anymore.
But since we like to celebrate a person’s life New Orleans style, strike up the band and let’s toast another of our great fallen colleagues, Michael “Iron Man” Burks who has left us too soon. Burks suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 54 after returning to the states from a European tour. Burks’ final album, now available on Alligator Records is titled “Show of Strength” and his deep soulful voice is perfectly complimented by his exciting guitar pyrotechnics.
From the driving intro on the first song, “Count On You” to the last notes of “Feel Like Going Home” this album rocks and rocks hard. “Count On You” is one of those great laments of both blues and country – that person who always lets you down, but you just can’t walk away. He immediately follows this up with a plea “To Take A Chance On Me, Baby.” His vocals are silky smooth and this is a great soulful ballad.
Burks is backed up by a solid band that includes Wayne Sharp on organ, piano, and backing vocals; Terrence Grayson on bass and backing vocals, and Chuck “Popcorn” Louden on drums and backing vocals. This tight core is joined by guests Roosevelt Purifoy who adds his keys on three sides and Scott Dirks on harp for one song.
Burks picks up the pace a little with “Storm Warning,” a reminder that there is always a storm brewing out there and we need to be ready. He then asks “Can You Read Between The Lines” and tell when your woman is stepping out on you. “Cross Eyed Woman” gives Sharp a chance to lay down some strong sounds on the organ and it gives the song a darker edge.
“Little Juke Joint” is not about Professor Johnny P’s Juke Joint – but the story of that little place we all like to remember – the spot that brought us all into the life. I might have to adopt it as my theme song. “24 Hour Blues” follows and slows the tempo down nicely. He follows up with the soaring “Valley Of Tears.”
Burks really brings it down with “Since I’ve Been Loving You Baby.” You can feel his anguish in every note. He follows up with the optimistic “I Want To Get You Back.” Of course since the course of true love never runs smooth, there’s another follow up in which Burks wonders “What Does It Take To Please You.”
He then brings the CD to a close with the Charlie Rich side, “Feel Like Going Home.” All in all, an amazing collection that while it is satisfying artistically still leaves the question, “what if.” I wish we had an answer because it’s obvious that Burks was really coming into his own as a confident singer-player-songwriter.
“Iron Man,” we’re going to miss you, but your music will live on and will always be on the Juke Box.
(Picture of Michael Burks was artfully purloined from his website. http://www.michaelburks.com If you are the copyright holder and want us to take it down, please notify us and we’ll reluctantly do so.)