|Jimmy and Eddie Burns|
Eddie Burns was born in Belzoni, MS on February 8, 1928. His father worked as a sharecropper, but also played music and gambled on the side. Burns was raised mostly by his grandparents, who owned a record player and some 78s of artists like Sonny Boy Williamson I, Jazz Gillum, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, Walter Davis, Lil Green, and Burns' favorite, Tommy McClennan. McClennan and Williamson were Burns' biggest influences as a musician. While the first Williamson inspired Burns on record, the second Sonny Boy Williamson inspired Burns to start playing the harmonica after the youngster caught a Williamson performance.
Burns and Smith ended up recording in Detroit, thanks to some help from John Lee Hooker, in 1948. Burns' first single was for Palda Records, "Notoriety Woman." By the next year, Burns had started playing guitar and was backing Hooker on guitar on several of Hooker's singles.
While his brother was beginning to make a name for himself on the Detroit blues scene, younger brother Jimmy, born in Dublin, MS on February 27, 1943, was a five-year-old, who would soon be working the fields, picking cotton and sharecropping with his parents. By the time Jimmy Burns was old enough to really be aware of his surrounding, his brother Eddie, 15 years older, had moved out. The two actually didn't develop a real relationship until Jimmy moved to Chicago with his parents in 1955. From that point, they would visit each other a couple of times a year and rarely even discussed music when they were together.
Detroit on the Blue Suit label. An excellent representation of his talents, Detroit allowed Burns to play guitar and harmonica, and was reissued by Evidence Records in the late 90's.
In the 70's, however, Burns put his music career on the backburner, choosing to focus on raising his family and running his own barbecue stand, Uncle Mickey's, though he continued to perform at various venues around the Windy City, focusing on soul music, but slowly gravitating toward blues by the end of the decade, after hearing Carey and Lurrie Bell perform.
Leaving Here Walking, won a boatload of acclaim and awards, including Best Blues Record of the Year from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors, and the French Academie Du Jazz's Big Bill Broonzy Award, and was nominated for two Blues Music Awards as well. One of the highlights was the lengthy, tension-filled title cut, which opened the disc.
Burns followed up Leaving Here Walking with two other excellent Delmark studio releases (1999's Night Time Again and 2003's Back to the Delta) and a live CD/DVD recorded at B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago in 2007. In 2011, he released an independent CD called Stuck In The Middle, that has also been widely acclaimed.
Snake Eyes. Recorded just a couple of days after the 9/11 attacks, it featured Eddie Burns' plaintive vocals, guitar, and harmonica, with Jimmy Burns providing backing on electric and acoustic guitar, and even joining in on vocals for the rowdy Charles Calhoun hit, "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash." Though primarily an disc of Detroit-based blues, the Chicago influence is also present, thanks to Koester's peerless production and a tight rhythm section of Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards), Larry Taylor (drums), and Nick Charles (bass).
Eddie Burns recorded one final disc, Second Degree Burns, in 2005, and remained active as a performer until 2008, when his health began failing. He died from heart failure last week on December 12. Though his recorded output is very slim, what Eddie Burns did, both recording and performing live, served as an influence to many Detroit area musicians and the recordings are worth a listen.
Fortunately, Jimmy and Eddie Burns not only were able to build a strong personal relationship over time, but they also were able to form a musical partnership in the process. Though each man's approach to the music came from different directions, they were able to bring it all together with satisfying results. I strongly recommend all of Eddie Burns' raw and ragged urban Detroit blues and Jimmy's smooth, soulful Chicago blues releases. You won't be disappointed with any of it.