Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Tribute to Eddie Burns on Saturday

When Little Sonny moved to Detroit from Alabama in 1953, he met Eddie “Guitar” Burns.
Burns, who died in 2012 at age 84, will be honored at the concert “A Tribute to Eddie Burns” at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Scarab Club in Detroit.
Burns was the first musician to give Little Sonny, who became an internationally known harmonica player and singer, encouragement in the budding stages of his musical career.
Eddie Burns in 2005 at Cobo Joe's in Detroit. (BluesPhotos by Don Mc Ghee)
Little Sonny recalls working as a photographer at various Detroit clubs, including the Plantation Club on Russell near Warren, where Burns was a mainstay.
“Eddie found out I played harmonica and he used to let me come up and sit in with him,” Little Sonny said. “(Eddie) was the first one that did that.”
Little Sonny was impressed with Burns’ talent as a singer, harmonica player and guitarist, and also regarding his musical knowledge.
“Eddie was blues, but he would mix with some jazz as well, like Louis Jordan. He also knew a lot of Leadbelly and the other old cat’s stuff. He was more educated about the old blues than any of the guys I knew. He could back to Charlie Patton and all the old blues artists. He could not only go back, but he could remember the songs and play them.
“He was a hell of a musician, from the old type of blues, before Muddy Waters. He knew all those old songs I had never even heard of.
“He was a good writer too and had hits himself. He would play stuff by Bobby Bland and Louis Jordan and a lot of the old-time musicians, and some up-to-date stuff as well.
“He wasn’t just an outright blues artist. He mixed his stuff. I learned to go into a different bag from him.”
Singer-guitarist Carlton Washington, 29, will lead a veteran band at the tribute Saturday. He will be joined by singer-guitarist Billy Davis, who first gained recognition with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, as well as bassist Frank Bryant and drummer Clyde “Poppa” Lee, both veterans of Eddie Burns’ band.
Washington is from a different generation, but he is familiar with Eddie Burns and his music.
“I’ve always been into the history of Detroit blues," Washington said. "I came up watching Johnnie Bassett, and he provided inspiration to dig deeper.
“Eddie Burns was a great songwriter, and it’s an honor to be able to pay tribute to a very important part of Detroit blues.”
Although Burns later garnered the nickname “Guitar,” he started out as a harmonica player. Burns played the harp “backward,” with the higher register on the left side.
“Eddie is the only guy I know who could play ‘Juke,’ and sound like Little Walter,” Little Sonny said.
Burns, a Mississippi native whose brother Jimmy Burns is a Chicago soul-blues musician, played and recorded with John Lee Hooker, and toured internationally. Eddie Burns received the Michigan Heritage Award in 1994, and, in 1998, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society, which is hosting Saturday’s event.
Little Sonny was close friends with Burns for over 50 years and performed with him at his final live performance, at the Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival at the Music Hall Center for Performing Arts in Detroit in 2008.
“I never had a friend better than him,” Little Sonny said. “He would tell you and show you things a lot of other musicians wouldn’t show you. He would guide you in the music world.
“He would give me information on touring overseas before I went overseas. He let me know about the pitfalls so I would avoid them. That’s the kind of person he was. He would give you some advice to help you. He wasn’t selfish.”
Little Sonny described Burns as “humble.”   
“You couldn’t beat him. He was a beautiful person and he left behind a beautiful legacy with me and other musicians too.”

The Scarab Club is at 217 Farnsworth near the Detroit Institute of Arts, A $5 donation is requested. For information, click

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