published Friday, August 19th, 2011

Michael Burks brings tireless six-string blues to Nightfall


Q&A with blues guitarist Michael Burks


What: Nightfall Concert Series featuring Michael Burks.

When: 8 p.m. today. Michelle Young and Pontiac Blue open at 7 p.m.

Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Market and Cherry streets.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 265-0771.

Venue website:


1997: "From the Inside Out"

2001: "Make It Rain"

2003: "I Smell Smoke"

2008: "Iron Man"


Michelle Young and Pontiac Blue are a local blues outfit covering a wide range of blues subgenfrom Delta to modern. The band consists of Young, Mac Spica, Mike Salter, Tom McLaren, Bill Lefton and Stephen Bajkiewicz. For more information, visit their website at

To some musicians, after playing for an hour, they're ready to call a break to cool their fingers. For blues guitarist Michael Burks, that's not even a warm-up.

At an age when other kids were "out playing marbles or riding bicycles," Burks was with his father, learning the ropes as a blues guitarist in backwoods juke joints where dawn was the only sure-fire sign the concert was over.

"You only play two, three hours, and that's the way it is in the city," he said. "But if you play a juke joint in the South, you started before the sun went down, and you didn't stop until the sun came back up again."

That ability to hold sway over an audience for hour upon hour earned Burks the nickname "Iron Man."

Every year, he performs more than 200 dates and has made appearances at major festivals, including the Chicago Blues Festival, Telluride Blues Festival and Mississippi Muddy Waters Blues Fest. His recordings have been praised by Vintage Guitar Magazine and Living Blues Magazine, and he has received eight Blues Music Award nominations.

That musical stamina will be on display when Burks makes his Chattanooga debut as this week's Nightfall headliner.

Burks' father played electric blues bass, and his grandfather was a Delta blues guitarist. Early on, Burks learned primarily by ear, adding new songs to his repertoire by delving into his father's record collection.

At age 6, he took the stage in his hometown, Camden, Ark., for his first professional gig at a nightclub with his cousin's 10-piece band.

During the mid-'80s, Burks took a break from performing to work as a mechanical technician for Lockheed-Martin. Music was never far from his mind, however, and he continued to commute 100 miles to a weekly blues jam in Little Rock, Ark.

In the mid-'90s, he returned to the road in front of a new band and began performing at regional festivals. There, he attracted notice through his seemingly inexhaustible energy and a fiery performing style developed through influences ranging from T-Bone Walker and Eric Clapton to Carlos Santana and Roy Clark.

Burks likens his stylistic development to that of a backwoods culinary staple.

"I call it like making a gumbo," he said, laughing. "You put all these ingredients in a pot and make a gumbo, and that's what you come up with.

"Most everybody I know likes a good gumbo."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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