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Nine O'clock Blues: Michael 'Iron Man' Burks

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Given Michael Burks' nickname, Iron Man, and the reason he got that nickname, intensely physical and extended performances, it is hard to come to grips with the fact that he has passed away, though only 54.

He died last May after a heart attack suffered at an airport as he was returning from a tour of Europe. He had planned to wrap up post production on a new album that Alligator Records hoped would finally boost Burks to the upper rank of Blues artists where many of us feel he belonged. Producer Bruce Iglauer has now completed post production and “Show of Strength” has been released. We will sample it this week on The Nine O’clock Blues.  


Guitarist, singer and song-writer Michael Burks was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957, son of Blues bass player Frederick Burks. Frederick backed a number of Blues luminaries as a harmonica player, most notably Sonny Boy Williamson II. He started teaching Michael guitar when he was 2. By age 5 he could workout tunes off his father’s 45 records. Michael played his first gig at age 6 and got his first touring job at 14.

In the early 1970s the family moved to Camden, Arkansas and opened a juke joint with the improbable name of the Bradley Ferry Country Club. Michael became leader of the house band and remained there until the club closed in the mid-1980s. After the closing Burks took a job as a mechanic at Lockheed Martin while, at first, continuing to play at local clubs. A dedicated father he put away his guitar for years while raising his daughter.

Burks recorded his first album, “From the Inside Out,” in 1997 and it was hailed by Living Blues magazine as one of "the best debut discs of the year." Blues Access magazine said it was "the most impressive indie in recent memory.” In 2001 he signed with Alligator and released 3 albums prior to the new one.  


Michael Burks was a regular at The King Biscuit Blues Festival and appeared twice at Memphis in May. The Blues world will miss his blistering hourslong performances and soulful sound.

Also on this week’s show we’ll hear from Koko Taylor, long time Muddy Waters Blues Band member, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and a live performance of “Got My Mojo Working” by Jimmy Rogers with Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters.

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