Michael “Iron Man” Burks – Show of Strength

January 01, 1970





Michael “Iron Man” Burks was a big man, physically and
musically, and his sudden collapse and death on May 6th 2012 at the Atlanta airport after
returning home from a European tour left a huge void in the blues world that
cannot be filled. Burks was just 54. He might not have been as famous as other
bluesmen who left this earth too early, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther
Allison and Albert Collins. But that was more due more to the fact that this
man had the strength to interrupt his promising musical career in his 20’s to
support his family with a full time job than any lack of talent on his part.
Indeed, few have ever played the electric guitar with more power or passion than
Iron Man, who got his nickname from the three or four hour shows he would do every
night and the thousands of miles he would drive his van to practice the craft
he loved.


Show of Strength was
recorded before his final tour and Burks was about to approve the final mixes
and track order at the time of his death. In his lifetime, Burks released only
five albums: a self-produced debut album in 1997 From the Inside Out and four albums released on the Alligator
label. Show of Strength was
co-produced by Burks and Alligator president, Bruce Iglauer. It shows an artist
at the height of his powers and getting stronger with each new release. Now
these 12 songs – five written or co-written by Burks —  will have to serve as a monument to both the
giant he was and the legend he would have become.


The first track, “Count on You,” starts with a typical
Burks’ guitar blast followed by his gritty and soulful voice. The entire album
illustrates who Burks was: an electric blues guitar god. He could unleash a
ferocious guitar attack yet back it with rock solid melodies. He could make his
guitar thunder on a song like “Can You Read Between the Lines?” or be soulful on
“24 Hour Blues.” And he could play a mean slide guitar on “Cross Eye Woman.” The
words fiery and intense will always define Burks’ blues.


Unfortunately, there never was a Michael Burks live album
and maybe it would have been impossible to capture the energy of one of his
marathon shows live. But we get one tantalizing glimpse of Iron Man on stage in
Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary
Rhythm & Blues Revue”
released by Alligator in 2011. Burks delivers there
a 10 minute showcase of power guitar playing from a Kansas City show on the song “Voodoo Spell.”
I said when it came out that this  was
one of the best blues rock songs ever recorded live – right up there with the
work of Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, Allison or any
of the Kings. And that is still true today.


None of us know how long we get, so the best we can do is
make the best of what we have been given. But an artist sometimes senses more
than ordinary folks. So how hauntingly appropriate that Show of Strength concludes not with a barnburner but with a classic
gospel song about dying, Charley Rich’s “Feel Like Going Home.” A mournful
piano leads us into Burk’s now world weary voice and poignant last guitar work
on record.


Michael “Iron Man” Burks has gone home but in a short period
of time he left a body of work that shows he was one of the greatest who ever
lived. We are lucky to have his CDs and the memory of his incredible live
shows. Show of Strength is a
masterful goodbye from a master artist. RIP Iron Man.


on You,” “Can You Read Between the Lines?,” “Cross Eyed Woman,” “Feel Like
Going Home”  –TOM CALLAHAN 


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