We'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