Recorded in London at Chalk Farm Studios.
There's more to Motown than just super-slick Soul, for Eddie Burns, a long-time resident of that famous city, turned out to be one of the nicest and most genuine bluesmen to have visited Britain in recent years. Polite and attentive to interviewers, he'd later do his utmost to provide an exciting and varied programme for listeners. As he himself admitted, he's not the greatest living blues-singer, but proved on several nights that he was a first-class harmonica player and a more than competent guitarist. The enthusiastic reception he generally received owed as much to his friendly personality as it did to his down-home blues.
His story is almost that of all his contemporaries on the Chicago and Detroit scenes, but there is a slight twist to the plot - he started out as a listener rather than as an active participant. Born in the heart of the Mississippi cotton-belt at Belzoni during 1928, he was raised in small farming communities near Webb and Dublin, both in the Clarksdale area. His interest in blues developed as he entered his 'teens for both his father and grandmother, unlike the majority of their neighbours, enjoyed 'sinful' (i.e. secular) music and encouraged the young boy to listen to records by Jazz Gillum, Tony Hollins, Sonny Boy Williamson, Washboard Sam, Big Bill Broonzy, Tommy McClennan and other popular 'Race' stars, while urging him to think about making his own music one day.
Aided by his father, Eddie made a crude, imitation guitar by nailing lengths of broom-wire to the wall of his home; by sliding a bottle along the 'strings' he then produced his first 'blue' notes. He next began to beat out rhythms on a washboard and to tentatively play along with records on a cheap harmonica. By the time he was fifteen he had already started busking on street corners and was an avid fan of 'King Biscuit Time', a daily radio-programme devoted to the sounds of 'Rice' Miller, the bogus Sonny Boy Williamson, and his King Biscuit Boys. It was the two, very different Sonny Boys who, in their own way, inspired Eddie to eventually turn professional.
His escape from Mississippi began in Clarksdale, where he moved in 1943, and ended in Detroit. In 1947 Eddie found work with the Illinois Central Railroad as a labourer and met a 'lady' in Waterloo, Iowa who was most impressed by his blues. She invited him to come to her home in the Motor City and try for the big-time and Eddie was quick to accept. He arrived in that city in 1948 and began his recording career almost immediately.
Employment with John Lee Hooker's band as harp player led to sessions for the Pan-American Recording Company as a sideman and solo artist. His first records appeared on the market as by Slim Pickens of The Swing Brothers, but 1952 saw the first issues under his own name. These were for DeLuxe and on their strength Eddie got his own combo together and began to entertain at the 'Tavern Lounge'. Further studio dates with Modern and Checker led to 'Superstition', a minor hit in 1954, but a record that made his name one-to-watch in the Detroit area. 1957 was the year of his biggest success -'Treat Me Like I Treat You' on Chess - but it was also a year of tough times. Eddie's style of blues was on the way out and in 1958 he was forced to break up his band and become a sideman again - this time for Little Sonny.
The 'sixties became a decade of hustles and disappointments with Eddie fighting to survive in a rapidly changing world. Faith in his abilities led to more recordings - for Harvey Fuqua's Harvey concern (possibly his finest work to date) and smaller labels like Fortune, Big Star and Von. But it was a second chance of work with Hooker that led to fresh hope for the future. Eddie went to the Chess studio with his patron for a lengthy album session and was allowed to record under his own name at the end of it. Though these titles were never issued, it was Hooker who reminded Europeans that Eddie Burns was still active. In 1972 he arrived in London for that now famous tour.
In February he cut his first-ever album and now seven month's later, for a second and, I'm sure, even more profitable trip. At long last we have an excellent souvenir of the initial visit or, for those who actually missed seeing him in action, a solid introduction to his vast repetoire of both old and new blues songs performed in a variety of traditional styles.
Numbers like 'Bottle Up And Go', 'Vicksburg Blues' or 'Whiskey Headed Woman' are from Tommy McClennan and Little Brother Montgomery and they're sung and played in their original fashion, demonstrating Eddie's concern for his roots. 'Cross My Heart', 'Kansas City' and 'Bad Bad Whiskey' are recreations of 'fifties' R & B hits by Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Willie Littlefield and Amos Milburn, indicating that his early interest in radio and the music of fellow bluesmen was not to diminish, and the others are basically his own material. Eddie's mellow, bluesy voice is well echoed by his own harp or guitar accompaniments, while on things like 'Your Daddy Ain't Foolin" Bob Hall's boogie-woogie piano lends that extra drive required by a rock and roll blues.
There is often much criticism, usually of a scathing nature, for integrated blues sessions held on British shores (often rightly so), but this one, thanks to a sympathetic producer and well-rehearsed sidemen, is about as near perfect as can be expected from a product of 'alien' surroundings. Eddie comes across as a warm person and, more important, as a man who can cope with everything from straight, country blues to contemporary sounds (note the 'Kiddio' touches on 'I Call It Love') with practised ease. This album will, in time, become a significant milestone for Anglo-American Blues, establishing the name of Eddie (Guitar) Burns far outside the confines of Motown and greatly helping the new Blues Revival that is currently getting under way.
Eddie Burns is a Big Bear Artist.
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