I Smell Smoke
Powerhouse blues from one of the genre's brightest new stars. A killer combination of blazing guitar fire and gruff vocal passion. "An immensely talented guitarist and singer who will singe the whiskers right off your face" --GUITAR ONE
Michael Burks: Vocals and Guitar
Vasti Jackson: Rhythm Guitar
Ernest Williamson: Keyboards
David Smith: Bass
Steve Potts: Drums and Percussion
with Billy Gibson: Harmonica on Miss Mercy and Snake Eggs
**I Smell Smoke (Tiven, Tiven & Reale, Universal-Polygram Intl. Publ., Inc./Ralph Young Music, ASCAP/Universal-Songs of Polygram Intl., Inc./Private Domain Music/ Terminal Zone Music, BMI)
Produced by Michael Burks, Bruce Iglauer & Jim Gaines
Associate Producer Dr. Tim Wilkin
Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN
Engineered by Jason "Test Tube Baby" Latshaw
Mixed by Jason Latshaw and Jim Gaines
Mastered by A.J. Bautista and Bruce Iglauer at Colossal Mastering, Chicago, IL
Photos by Paul Natkin, Photo Reserve
Design by Kevin Niemiec
Very special thanks to: Dr. Tim Wilkin; Alexander Dumble; John Hahn; Brittany Burks; Paulene Burks; all my brothers and sisters; and Lil' Red.
Many thanks to: Bruce Iglauer, Chris Levick, Tim Kolleth, Marc Lipkin and the entire staff of Alligator Records; Steve Hecht, Hugh Southard, Beaux Whalen, Page Stallings, Michelle Kaplan and everyone at Piedmont Talent; John Davies; Cecil "Short Dog" Parker; Wayne "Razor" Sharp; Don Garrett; Lance Womack; The Mighty Joe Pitts; Greg Arnold; Andre "Mr. A&R" Hobus; Ray Stiles; Vicky Darnell; Les Walker; Clay and Sheila Powers; René Martinez; Christian Brooks; Chuck Ross and all at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival; Tommy Amason; Amanda Grice; Sheila Smith; David Johnson; Brian at Cajun's; Margie and Beu at Chester's; Tony Campanella; Travis; Boochie; Amber; and all the fans worldwide.
Michael's equipment friends: Jack Nau and Marcus Shefer at EMG Pickups; Tony Pinheiro at DR Strings; Alexander Dumble at Dumble Musical Sound Consulting; Dr. Z at Dr. Z Amplifiers; Phil Jamison at Matchless Amplifiers; and Graph Tech Guitar Labs.
Michael's favorite stops: Chester's; George's Majestic Lounge; Cajun's Wharf; Juanita's; 930 Blues Cafe; The Tone Slutt Hutt; Big Harry's Music; Charlie's Guitar Shop; Seigler's Music; Bensberg's Music; Ronny's Steel Guitar; and The Cracker Barrel.
This album is dedicated to Frederick Burks Sr.
A magician uses a bag of tricks to saw a lady in half. Third-generation bluesman Michael Burks has been dazzling audiences since childhood with his six-string axe. Now the magic of his music is even more impressive because his voice has caught up with his fretwork.
Burks has honed his playing skills since he was two, when his late father, Frederick, presented him with a child-size working guitar. His dad, who worked in Milwaukee's steel mills, taught Michael well, and the young prodigy began earning comparisons with the three Kings of the blues.
Like B.B., Freddie and Albert, Burks spent a good portion of his formative musical years in the South. But there's also a Northern industrial drive to his soul-blues sound that's more indicative of his birthplace, Milwaukee, than his family's roots in Camden, Arkansas. When his father's work in the North dried up, the family returned to Camden, and young Michael cut his teeth musically at the Burks' juke joint, the Bradley Ferry Country Club (named after the only road that led into the night spot). His group would back up well-known touring acts when they'd come through town, including Johnnie Taylor and O.V. Wright.
Although a day job took him away from his music for a time, Michael fell in love with the blues all over again by jamming with Chick Willis during a mid-1990s weekend visit to Atlanta. Back in Camden, Burks then assembled a new band, and released From The Inside Out, a self-produced album, in 1997. Positive reaction in the blues magazines and a series of fiery Southern festival performances led to a gig at the 2000 Chicago Blues Festival. Alligator chief Bruce Iglauer heard the set and was so impressed that he signed Michael on the spot, releasing Burks' debut disc for the label, Make It Rain, the following year. The album earned critical raves, and more importantly to Michael, the unabashed admiration and respect of his dad.
The same team that produced Make It Rain, Iglauer and Jim Gaines (Santana, John Lee Hooker, Luther Allison), recently returned to the studio to record I Smell Smoke. Burks is playing with even more self-assuredness on his new disc, but he's showing a depth of emotion that's rare in the macho-posturing world of the blues. He can swagger with the best of 'em, and then, through his lyrics and delivery, he reveals a vulnerable, contemplative side that tells you he isn't afraid to bare his soul. And along with that openness comes a more powerful vocal style that can be gruff when Burks wants to rock, then almost churchy-pretty when he's confessing the blues on these originals and well-chosen covers.
After his long, dues-paying journey, Burks is now able to fuse his crowd-pleasing energy with a newfound maturity and deep-blues insight. These are the new components in his trick bag that make the magic in the music on this disc all the more amazing.
Jeff Johnson covers blues music for The Chicago Sun-Times, where he works as a copy editor in the Features Department.