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Blues Guitarist Michael "Iron Man" Burks, R.I.P.

By May 7, 2012

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Michael Iron Man BurksWe've received word from Alligator Records that blues guitarist Michael "Iron Man" Burks passed away on Sunday, May 6, 2012 from an apparent heart attack. The popular bluesman had just returned to the states from a European tour, and collapsed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He was rushed to South Fulton Medical Center but could not be revived. Burks was 54 years old.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July 1957, Burks was raised in a musical family - his grandfather was a blues guitarist in Arkansas, his father a bass player who often performed with Sonny Boy Williamson. Burks first picked up a guitar at the age of two, and by the age of five he was learning to play songs from his father's record collection motivated, no doubt, by the $1 per song reward that his father paid if he learned a song by the time he got home from work. The elder Burks moved his family to Arkansas in the early 1970s, where the family built and operated the Bradley Ferry Country Club, a 300-seat juke-joint. By his early teens, Burks was fronting his own band as well as backing many of the blues and R&B talents that performed at the family's club.

The Bradley Ferry Country Club closed in the mid-1980s, and Burks went to work as a mechanical technician for Lockheed-Martin as he raised his own family. By the early 1990s, however, he was getting the itch to perform again, and he formed a new band in 1994 and began playing clubs and regional festivals. Burks' energetic performances and blistering guitar style quickly earned him a reputation, and he received offers to perform at festivals from one side of the country to the other. Burks released his self-produced debut album From The Inside Out in 1997, the disc receiving critical acclaim and leading to bigger and better bookings. Burks would sign with Alligator Records, releasing his label debut Make It Rain in 2001 and following it up with his I Smell Smoke album in 2003. Burks' 2008 album Iron Man earned the guitarist a slew of Blues Music Award nominations and placed him on the verge of blues superstardom.

Burks earned his "Iron Man" nickname by delivering hours-long, physically-demanding performances night after night, his soulful vocals matched by a fierce, unique guitar style that would leave audiences breathless. A charismatic performer, nobody left a Michael Burks show without a smile on their face, and the artist would climb behind the wheel of his van and drive hundreds of miles to his next show. A blue-collar bluesman with immense six-string skills and a growing confidence in his songwriting ability (he wrote or co-wrote seven of the twelve songs on Iron Man), Burks was working on a new album for Alligator Records at the time of his death. Burks was the living, breathing, touring embodiment of the blues, and will be missed. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and many fans around the world.

Photo courtesy Alligator Records


May 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm
(1) Greg @ GMM says:

Micheal Burks was the best blues guitarist that has come along in many years. I’ve seen him play numerous times and I will miss him dearly. Hopefully Popcorn and the boys will find there way. Heaven sure has a great blues guitar player up there. R.I.P Ironman

May 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm
(2) Brett says:

R.I.P. Best wishes to Popcorn and Wayne.

May 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm
(3) Tim C says:

He was one of two of the best blues guitarists I have ever heard. The man played the sky is crying with his teeth. This is a great loss.

May 8, 2012 at 11:39 am
(4) Bob D. says:

Very sad news to hear. Big loss to the Blues world. Michael was working his way up the ladder to get to the next level. It’s tragic he could pass away at just 54. RIP Iron Man, you will be missed by many. The sky is crying.

May 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm
(5) Big Al says:

Truly tragic news. He recorded one of our songs and did an incredible job “Make It Rain”. He will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers to his family. Al Lauro aka Big Al & The Heavyweights

May 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm
(6) Jake says:

Wow, What a bummer. I just discovered Michael 3-4 years ago. I bought a CD from him at a show a couple of years ago. He told me he just came from Iraq where he was entertaining troops. He was such a good guitarist/performer and he really seemed like a

really good down to earth person. RIP

May 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm
(7) jas.tenor sax .huggins says:

play in his band once up a time.r.i.p. from jas.tenor sax.huggins

May 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm
(8) ynez says:

I have followed Michael for at least the past l0 years. I attended performances in SF,Sacramento,Santa Cruz, Reno and Dallas, Tx
A great lost, no one could play the blues like Michael. I loved every performance, you will be missed. Best wishes to your family, friends, Popcorn and Wayne.

May 9, 2012 at 12:10 am
(9) Steve says:

I’ve never seen a work ethic like Michaels. He would not even take a break and no noodling between songs. He was also a gentle giant except if the sound wasn’t right. He would get it “fixed”. I, and many other St. Louisans will miss Michael at BB’s Blues Soups & Jazz, where he played dates a couple times a year. Condolences to the family and the band. RIP Michael.

May 12, 2012 at 3:08 am
(10) debbie baker says:

Michael—–unfortunately, I and others will not get to see u play in the flesh—- but— your music and memories will be here forever………..Popcorn—my sympathy for your loss. always there—Debbie Baker

July 26, 2012 at 10:19 am
(11) Gerson says:

Michale nunca tuve la oportunidad de ver un show tuyo, que pena. Un gran artista, un gran músico.

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