Make It Rain
A fresh blast of contemporary blues from a hot-wired Arkansas bluesman. Marked by blistering guitar & deep soul vocals on a collection of raucous shuffles& simmering slow blues. “A master…may be the next Luther Allison.”BLUES REVUE
Michael Burks Lead Guitar and Vocals
Vasti Jackson Rhythm Guitar
Ernest Williamson Keyboards
David Smith Bass
Steve Potts Drums
The Acme Horns:
Jim Spake Tenor and Baritone Sax
Scott Thompson Trumpet and Flugelhorn
on "Beggin' Business," "Heartless," and
"Don't Let It Be A Dream"
Produced by Michael Burks, Jim Gaines and Bruce Iglauer
Wightman Harris, associate producer
Recorded and mixed at Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN
Engineered by Jason Latshaw
Mixed by Jason Latshaw and Jim Gaines
Mastered by Brian Jensen and Bruce Iglauer at MonsterDisc, Chicago, IL
Photos by Paul Natkin
Packaging design by Kevin Niemiec
Chester's; George's; J&J's; High Tide Booking; Crossroads Blues Agency; Siegler's; Ben Jack's; Bensberg Music; Conway Music; Musician's Pro Shop; Starr's Guitars; Sam Veal; Mitch Harbeson; Rob Wright; Keith Abel; Vernon "Big Love" Allgood; Lance Womack; Andre "Mr. A&R" Hobus; John Hahn; Fred James; Mike Large; Chris Anderson; Jackie Payne; Lenny Austin; Travis Haddix; Cecil Parker; Scott Hardy; Don Garrett; Travis Reid; Bob McCracken; Ellen Thurman and the YB's; Fred Burks, Sr. for passing the gift of music; Brittany Burks; Paulene Burks and the rest of the Burks family; and the Alligator Staff and especially Bruce Iglauer for believing. A very special 'thank you' to Amber Parker and Brenda Harris for love, support and guidance.
Blues is a deceptively simple musical form. Learning to play is fairly easy. Learning to play right is decidedly another matter. And to sing the blues right … well, you've just got to have that mojo inside of you.
There's a reason that so-called blues "purists" (myself included) revere the music's pioneers and the succeeding generations of musicians who kept faith with them: They felt and expressed the blues at almost a cellular level. As those generations of artists pass on, they're all too often succeeded by musicians who know where all the notes are but are clueless at investing them with that secret ingredient called Soul. Lucky for you who have just torn the shrinkwrap off this disc, Michael Burks most assuredly does not share this ailment. Mr. Burks plays and sings with an intensity that burns, baby.
Michael comes by his talent - and just as important, his feel - for the blues honestly. If a talent for the blues can be passed through the bloodlines, then Michael is a thoroughbred. Both his father and his grandfather were blues musicians. His dad, Frederick, put a guitar in Michael's hands when he was just two years old. It was a good start, but Michael would have to wait until he was all of six before he made his night club debut in the family's hometown of Camden, Arkansas. When Michael and his older brother tore through renditions of "Hideaway" and "Frosty," the audience was thrilled. "They called me 'little midget,' " Michael recalls, "because they couldn't believe I was just six years old."
He was voracious about learning to play the riffs on the records his father brought home; T-Bone Walker, B.B. and Albert King, Albert Collins and Freddie King were among his favorites. When he was in his mid-teens, the Burks clan built their own juke joint where Michael fronted his own band and got to play behind the many touring chitlin circuit artists who came through, like Johnnie Taylor, O.V. Wright and Rufus Thomas.
Even after settling into a day job, working for Lockheed-Martin as a mechanical technician for over a decade, Michael kept playing, absorbing his musical lessons and refining his soul. At one point he played guitar with a gospel group, the Clouds of Joy. Given that he'd played organ in church and that his grandmother was a powerful gospel singer ("She had a voice that could be heard for blocks!"), this wasn't much of a stretch. "Even playing gospel, you still got that feel--all this emotion that you're putting into this song. It's just another story being told." Michael's natural affinity for gospel is evident in all his vocals on this album, but especially on "What Can A Man Do?"
By 1994, he was ready to seriously pursue a career in music. He put together a new band
and they began booking themselves into clubs and festivals. Response was good to their high-energy performances and they decided to record an album. "I still had a day gig," he remembers, "and we would go over to our keyboard player's house and record for three or four hours at a time until we got it done. I was writing as we went along."
The resulting album, From the Inside Out, featured some strong performances, but other than the copies Michael sold off the bandstand it didn't make much of a splash. Still, anyone who heard it or caught the band live had to believe that there were better things to come. It wasn't long before the Michael Burks Band was fielding festival offers from around the South and Michael was honored by the Blues Foundation with its Albert King Award. It was a most appropriate accolade, as the big man from Memphis had a profound impact on Burks' vocalizing and fretwork, even down to his use of a Gibson Flying V guitar. (Just lend an ear to "Everybody's Got Their Hand Out," Michael's homage to the late King Albert.)
It seemed inevitable that a respected blues record label would eventually come knocking on his door. Michael's pairing with Alligator gave him the chance to work in a real studio with a group of veteran musicians and esteemed producers Jim Gaines and Bruce Iglauer. No way was he about to drop the ball.
"The new record has that feel - you can feel the energy coming from it. The guys are groovin'. I had a great time in the studio this time. These are the same guys that recorded with Luther Allison and they were putting some fire in it. The first song we played, it was like we were locked in together. It was magical. We played the first song for about 15 minutes because we got the groove and didn't want to stop."
That groove and fire come through on every track on this disc. Michael understands the spark that happens when you connect with an appreciative listener and he and his cohorts made sure they created something that would transcend a studio's sterile confines. "The best thing about doing what we do is people," says Michael, "that people enjoy the music that we make. An artist can't play for himself. He's got to play for his audience. Without them you'd be playing to the wall."
So here's where you come in. Get yourself into the mood to make that connection and slap this disc into your CD player. Once you've done that, I've got only one question for you:
Can you feel the soul? It's a certainty that Michael Burks can.
(Cary is the editor and publisher of BLUES ACCESS magazine and since 1986 has produced the nationally distributed radio program Blues From the Red Rooster Lounge.)