Monday, October 27, 2014

Lennox, Hutcherson on Blue Note; Impulse back

Annie Lennox’s new CD, “Nostalgia,” from Blue Note includes a stunning version of “Strange Fruit,” an anti-lynching song usually associated with Billie Holiday, who recorded it in 1937.
Lennox’s live music video posted this week by the Guardian newspaper is even more amazing. (Click here to view video.) After watching the three-and-a-half-minute video as she sings in a long red dress in front of an orchestra, you have to leave your computer, go outside for a minute and shake your head as you think about the power of music and how it can move us.

At the end of the video, the orchestra sits silently, as if the musicians are as moved by her performance as we are.

A pop sensation since she started out in the 1970s with David Stewart in the Tourists and the Eurythmics, Lennox sings mostly American standards on her new CD.

In addition to “Strange Fruit,” she also sings soulful versions of Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and “I Cover the Waterfront,” as well as wonderful covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Memphis in June,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “The Nearness of You,” along with the Gershwins’ “Summertime,” Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “September in the Rain,” Sammy Fain’s “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” and Chilton Price’s “You Belong to Me.”

A nice program without a dull moment. Lennox trimmed this program of 12 songs from a list of more than 40 standards she considered recording, so there’s plenty more for a second and a third volume.

The great vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, who started recording for Blue Note at the age of 22 in 1963 (on Jackie McLean’s “One Step Beyond”), has returned to the label after a long absence with “Enjoy the View.” He leads an all-star group that includes David Sanborn on saxophone, Joey DeFrancesco on organ and trumpet and Billy Hart on drums, featuring compositions by Hutcherson, Sanborn and DeFrancesco.

Hutcherson’s mid-1960s Blue Notes are among the best from that venerable label, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Hutcherson’s “Dialogue” CD gets a top crown rating in the “Penguin Guide to Jazz CDs” and features such jazz giants as Andrew Hill on piano, multi-reed player Sam Rivers (who grew up in North Little Rock), trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers.

“Dialogue” is free-form jazz that has inspired Hutcherson’s current group to play at the top of their form. Sanborn, DeFancesco and Hart do a fine job evoking the music of those classic Blue Note records, but to hear Hutcherson play as well as he does at the age of 73 is something we should be grateful for.

Wayne Shorter, another labelmate from the 1960s, continues to perform at the age of 81. Blue Note last year released his “Without a Net,” a compilation of recent live recordings.

Those nostalgic for the 1960s will be pleased that Blue Note has revived the Impulse label, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. Known as “The House That Trane Built,” because of John Coltrane’s prodigious output there from 1961 until his death in 1967, Impulse continued sporadically in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a reissue label, although it also issued originals with Henry Butler, Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner and others, including “Underground: Live at Small’s,” which showcased young jazz artists who performed at the little jazz club in New York’s Greenwich Village.

But Impulse, with its black-and-orange label and spine, is going strong again under the Universal Group, which also owns Blue Note and Verve, another storied label that’s almost 70 years old.

The newly reactivated Impulse has just released a new CD with Butler, the blind New Orleans piano dynamo, who has teamed up with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9 Orchestra on “Viper’s Drag.” This is New Orleans jazz going up Dixie Highway to New York: It’s hot jazz updated a century later. It kicks off with Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag,” and moves on to Butler’s “Dixie Walker” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” “Wolverine Blues” and “King Porter Stomp,” Andy Gibson’s “I Left My Baby” (popularized by Jimmy Rushing and the Count Basie Orchestra), and several more Butler originals, including “Dixie Walker” and “Henry’s Boogie.”

Butler calls this music “rhythm IN blues.” He and Bernstein and the band play old-time jazz and blues and swing brought up to date “with modern flavors, agile arrangements and a vitality that never allows the historical focus to limit itself,” according to the informative liner notes by Ashley Kahn, author of “The House That Trane Built,” “Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album” and other books.

This is the band Stephen Colbert should hire next year for his new “Late Show” on CBS.

Another Impulse CD showcases a concert by bassist Charley Haden and guitarist Jim Hall recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1990. It’s a 75-minute program of classic jazz (Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround”) and Haden’s “First Song” and “In the Moment” and Hall’s “Down from Antigua” and “Big Blues.”

This is not a flashy program, but it’s a CD you want to listen to over and over. You’ll hear the gentle interaction between these two great musicians and the response from an appreciative audience.

Sadly, Hall passed away last year and Haden earlier this year.

Impulse has issued an-other duet CD, “The Art of Conversation” with the Philadelphia-born pianist Kenny Barron and the British bassist Dave Holland. Recorded last spring in New York, the CD features compositions by the two musicians, along with Charley Parker’s “Segment,” Monk’s “In Walked Bud” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Daydream.”

They keep the conversation going for almost an hour, and it’s always dazzling and provocative, like listening to Bud Powell and Paul Chambers, but this time in superior stereo.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New records from Thelonious Monk, Rosanne Cash

Alfred Lion, a refugee from Nazi Germany, founded Blue Note Records in New York on Jan. 6, 1939, when he recorded the boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade (Lux) Lewis after hearing them at the historic “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York the month before.

Lion, along with his business partner Francis Wolf, another refugee from Germany, recorded most of the important jazz musicians over the next 30 years, from Sidney Bechet (whose bluesy “Summertime” is one of the greatest recordings of all time) to John Coltrane (whose “Blue Trane,” his only Blue Note recording as a leader, is among my favorites) to Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell (two giants of jazz piano who did their best work with Blue Note) to Wayne Shorter and Bobby Hutcherson, who continue to record for Blue Note 50 years after their debuts with the label.

Blue Note still issues important jazz — Shorter’s live recordings, “Without a Net,” marked his return to the label last year — and there were also important CDs from Terrence Blanchard and Joe Lovano. Monk is back with a live recording, “Paris 1969,” which was recorded at the Salle Pleyel music hall for French TV. The video of the show comes with the new release.

It’s a great find, with Charlie Rouse on saxophone and a  surprise appearance by drummer Philly Joe Jones on one number, played before an appreciative audience. Monk reciprocated with a flawless performance. The producers made sure he had a good piano to play on for a change.

The CD is an hour long and includes such Monk classics as “I Mean You,” “Straight No Chaser” and “Blue Monk,” along with three solo piano performances, as well as the entire TV show on DVD. A historic document that would have made Alfred Lion proud.

Lion probably didn’t hear any country music until the Army sent him to Fort Bliss in El Paso,  Texas, during the Second World War. He may have heard plenty of western swing there. 

He would have enjoyed hearing Blue Note’s latest star, the Grammy Award-winning country singer Rosanne Cash, whose latest CD is “The River and the Thread,” an album of original songs written by Cash and her husband John Leventhal.

Like all Blue Note releases, “The River and the Thread,” is meticulously recorded with a gorgeous sound, giving it a live quality. All the songs have southern themes, inspired by the couple’s trip from Memphis to New Orleans.

The lineup includes “Etta’s Tune,” “The Sunken Lands,” “A Feather’s Not a Bird,” “Tell Heaven,” “Money Road,” “50,000 Watts” and more. They previewed their fine new CD before a couple of hundred lucky fans in Little Rock in November. 

Cash, who was born in Memphis, is the daughter of Johnny Cash, who grew up in Dyess (Mississippi County). She joins another singer with Arkansas roots on the Blue Note label, Al Green, who is from Forrest City. Let’s hope they’ll do a duet together.

East Arkansas has produced several musical giants, including Howlin Wolf, who farmed north of Parkin (Cross County) before he started recording for Sun, Chess and Modern Records after the Second World War; Charlie Rich, who was born in Colt (St. Francis County), not far from Parkin; Albert King, who lived in Osceola, not far from Cash’s boyhood home, which is being restored with Rosanne’s help, and Louis Jordan of Brinkley (Monroe County), whose childhood home, sadly, has been demolished.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Piano trio thrills LR audience

About 180 lucky people heard the great jazz pianist Marcus Roberts play for almost two hours last Saturday night at the South on Main Restaurant in Little Rock.

The old Juanita’s used to be in that spot, which South on Main now shares with Oxford American magazine, one of the sponsors of the Roberts concert.

Between 8 and 10 p.m., Roberts played a bluesy, soulful, swinging set and an encore (his original “Cole After Midnight”) as he evoked the history of jazz, from ragtime to hot jazz, from Ahmad Jamal to Miles Davis, from Thelonious Monk to Oscar Peterson, from Duke Ellington to the blind virtuoso George Shearing (Roberts is also sightless).

Roberts also played selections from his just-released CDs — he has three new ones out this fall — and they’re all astonishingly good.

Roberts, accompanied by Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums,  opened the program with three numbers from Jamal’s  repertoire, “Autumn Leaves,” “Billy Boy” and “Ahmad’s Blues.” Jamal, an important influence on Roberts, is another great pianist who is still going strong in his 80s.

Roberts then played Shearing’s “Conception,” followed by long excerpts from Peterson’s “Canadiana Suite” and then Jelly Roll Morton’s “Spanish Tinge.”

He played his own compositions, including “Rags to Rhythm,” “Reservoir” and “The Duo” from the new CDs, giving his sidemen generous playing time. As Marsalis and Jordan soloed, he sat motionless in front of the piano. Roberts, a youngish-looking 50-year-old, reminded me of Art Tatum, who died at the age of 47.

A music educator who grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and who teaches at Florida State University (his alma mater), Roberts understands the music perhaps better than the masters he’s learned from. A younger musician like Roberts appreciates the originators of the music, and because of his training, he  is completely in control of his instrument.

Roberts has been recording with Wynton Marsalis (Jason’s older brother) since the 1980s. “When he plays, you feel the spirit of the sanctified church,” Marsalis says.  “You are inspired by the complexity of the human mind, and you want to dance. That is Marcus Roberts, genius of modern piano.”

Roberts is heard on Marsalis’ “J Mood” and “Live at Blues Alley” from the 1980s and “Live at the Village Vanguard” from 1990-94, all from Columbia. The last is a seven-CD box set where he shares piano duties with Eric Reed. It can be had for a bargain on eBay.

Roberts began recording as a leader in 1988, starting with “The Truth Is Spoken Here” with Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Rouse (Monk’s longtime tenor saxophone player) and Elvin Jones, John Coltrane’s most important drummer.

Roberts has just issued two excellent new CDs with Wynton Marsalis: “Together Again in the Studio” and “Together Again in Concert” from J-Master Records. (Roberts’ nickname was Jazz Master when he was part of Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Orchestra.) Lots of standards and modern jazz (“Giant Steps”) and it’s all first-rate.

Like Bill Evans, Roberts sounds best in a trio setting, such as his cool “Cole After Midnight” from 2001. Another new CD from his trio, “From Rags to Rhythm,” also from J-Master, is perhaps his best since “Deep in the Shed,” Roberts’ 1989 masterpiece with members of the Lincoln Center Orchestra.

The new CD, which is also available as a download, has superb sound, filled with gospel-flavored originals that swing and shout, proving once again that the Roberts trio is the premier jazz ensemble performing and recording today.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New from Mosaic: Coleman Hawkins

For 30 years, Mosaic Records has reissued beautifully packaged box sets of important jazz and blues on CDs and vinyl. The series, usually limited to 5,000 copies per set, comes in distinctive pizza-size black boxes with a large photographs on the front and silver lettering on the spine. Each Mosaic set has an oversized booklet with stunning black-and-white photos and scholarly liner notes.
The superbly remastered recordings include many of the most important 20th Century artists going back 90 years, from Albert Ammons to John Coltrane and Miles Davis to Larry Young and much more.

Among our favorites is Sam Rivers’ “Complete Blue Note Recordings” from the 1960s. Rivers grew up in North Little Rock and was inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame in 2006, when he was in his 80s. He played lovely music on his saxophone and flute during his induction with an oxygen tank at his side.

The Mosaic series is the musical equivalent of the Library of America, whose uniform editions of classic authors with their distinctive black book jackets, from Sherwood Anderson to Edmund Wilson, look similar to the Mosaic sets. They both celebrate the creative genius of the American spirit and belong on everyone’s bookshelf and record collection.

You could start your Library of America collection with the first two volumes of the five-volume William Faulkner collection. As for the Mosaics, check out the just-issued “Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947,” with eight astonishing CDs — half the history of jazz is here — and liner notes by Loren Schoenberg, the artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, plus the usual great photos, except this booklet is on glossier paper than the older sets.

The Mosaic series now includes a new generation of music scholars, such as producer Scott Wenzell. Wenzell produced the monumental Hawkins set, which has some of the earliest music in the series, starting with Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds from December 1922, then on to the Dixie Stompers and Chocolate Dandies and Fletcher Henderson.

The Hawkins set, which includes his big band and small group recordings, is a history of early jazz and the evolution toward modern jazz, when the music wasn’t just for dancing but turned into an art form and became America’s classical music and our gift to the world.

Hawkins helped invent modern saxophone and influenced such future stars as Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Hawkins, who was born in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1904, had a stately presence who moved from vaudeville to modern jazz in 20 years. Some of the most important music here includes Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Milton Hinton and Max Roach. The sound is pristine, as if the music were recorded much later.

The set has several surprises: Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Fats Navarro, Buck Clayton and Teddy Wilson show up, as do Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney from the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Nate King Cole, June Christy and Frank Sinatra appear toward the end of this encyclopedic collection.

Hawkins often appears just for a few minutes on some of the recordings, but this is historic material and it’s good to have it available.

Michael Cuscuna, the critic and producer, co-founded Mosaic with the late Charlie Lourie in 1983. The first Mosaic set was released 40 years ago this month: “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk (Cuscuna’s favorite), followed by “The Complete Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Tentette with Chet Baker” and “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.” (The boogie-woogie pianists Ammons and Lewis were the first artists recorded on Blue Note Records in 1939.)

Many of the Mosaics were first issued by Blue Note, now owned by EMI, which also owns half of Mosaic.

Cuscuna, who produces most of the Mosaic series, has discovered unissued recordings by Monk, Herbie Nichols, Count Basie, Andrew Hill and others and restored their work with care and erudition. He has issued single LPs of traditional jazz recordings from Blue Note’s vaults dating back to the Second World War, particularly New Orleans pioneers such as Sidney Bechet and Edmond Hall and small-group swingtets with Lionel Hampton and others.

Mosaic sets, along with a smaller line of Mosaic Selects, are available by mail order at

There’s a thriving secondary market on eBay and elsewhere, but be careful: Prices are often inflated. The used sets are worth at least their original cost, but some sellers often ask hundreds of dollars for them.

You can find some of the old ones online at nonprofit thrift stores that received them as gifts from collectors. You should own at least one of these box sets.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Neville's nostalgic doo wop CD

The Grammy Award-winning singer Aaron Neville has a nice new CD out on the venerable Blue Note label, “My True Story,” which is the New Orleans singer’s tribute to doo wop.
Although it was recorded in studios in New York and New Orleans, the relaxed session has a live feel to it. Neville and the band — which includes the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Greg Leisz on guitar, Tony Scherr on bass and others — sound as if they’re playing after hours in a small club in the French Quarter. It’s genuine downhome music as Neville sings such classics as “Money Honey,” “Ruby Baby,” “My True Story,” “Ting a Ling,” “Gypsy Woman,” “Be My Baby,” “Tears on My Pillow,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Work with Me Annie,” “This Magic Moment,” ending with Jesse Belvin’s “Goodnight, My Love.”

 Aaron Neville's "My True Story"
is his latest from Blue Note.

(Belvin died in a car wreck in Hope in 1960 at the age of 27 after appearing at the first integrated concert with Sam Cooke in Little Rock, which the future music critic Robert Palmer attended as a teenager.)

Blue Note has gone well beyond its jazz roots with the signing of Neville, Norah Jones and other pop artists. But Blue Note has not forgotten its roots and continues to issue terrific jazz.

Among its recent releases is Wayne Shorter’s “Without a Net” (reviewed here Feb. 16), a live recording of the 79-year-old saxophonist’s recent concerts in Europe and Los Angeles, which sound as good as his classic Blue Note recordings from the 1960s.

Blue Note, the world’s most famous jazz label, started in 1939 by two young refugees from Germany, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, has recorded the giants of jazz, from Albert Ammons to Thelonious Monk, from John Coltrane to Horace Silver.

The label made just one record with Coltrane, “Blue Trane,” in 1957, which kicked off his most creative period with Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones (although Coltrane made several fine Blue Note records as a sideman).

After he recorded “Blue Trane,” Coltrane left Blue Note for Atlantic Records and Impulse. He died in 1967, leaving behind his widow Alice and a baby they named for Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitarist. Ravi Coltrane has grown into a major jazz artist and has released his own recording from Blue Note, “Spirit Fiction,” where he plays tenor and alto saxophone. Along with his young band, he’s joined by Geri Allen on piano and tenor player Joe Lovano.

Ravi’s dad would have been proud.

The younger Coltrane has a sound that is as fresh as his father’s when he first came on the scene 65 years ago. Building on the history of modern jazz that his dad helped create, Ravi Coltrane has the good fortune to play alongside Joe Lovano. Much of “Spirit Fiction” consists of duets with Coltrane and Lovano. You have to listen closely to tell the two apart as the older musician inspires the younger Coltrane to play his best.

Lovano’s sound is as accomplished as any saxophone player of our time. His “From the Soul” from 1991 is a modern masterpiece and gets a crown rating from the Penguin Guide to Jazz CDs. It ranks up there with another great saxophone player’s late Blue Note CD, Joe Henderson’s “Live at  the Village Vanguard,” which also gets a crown rating in the Penguin guide.

Lovano, who has recorded prolifically for Blue Note, has a new CD out called “Cross Culture” with the Grammy Award-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding, West African guitarist and fellow Blue Note artist Lionel Loueke, James Weidman on  piano and
Otis Brown III and 
Francisco Mela on drums.

The sound is superb and the musicianship is classic Blue Note.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Byrd dies, Shorter soars

Donald Byrd, one of finest jazz trumpet players of the second half of the 20th Century, died earlier this month at the age of 80. Some of his fans might not even have known he was still around, having given up the limelight in middle age when he concentrated on music education. They had remembered him as a hard-charging musician in the 1950s and 1960s who changed directions around 1970 and started making more commercial music that harmed his reputation in some jazz circles.

Byrd, a Detroit native, made his first great jazz recordings in the mid-1950s, when he was still in his early 20s. He sounded like an old pro, when he led a group on “Byrd’s World” on the Savoy label with Frank Foster, the Count Basie veteran on tenor saxophone, Hank Jones on piano and Paul Chambers on bass. A year later, he recorded for Prestige with the great John Coltrane and Hank Mobley on tenor, Elmo Hope on piano, Philly Joe Jones and drums and again Chambers of bass.

For the next 15 years, Byrd appeared on several outstanding LPs, most of them for the Blue Note label. He was not among the top tier of trumpet players at Blue Note, where Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Dorham were the trumpet stars, but he was up there with Blue Mitchell and Charles Tolliver, and they were good enough.

Byrd played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers — Blakey was a great spotter of talent — and also recorded with such Blue Note stars as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Lou Donaldson and others.

Byrd was a fine leader of his own small groups, and he also co-led with the baritone saxophone player Pepper Adams. “The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd-Pepper Studio Sessions” from Mosaic in 2000 helped boost Byrd’s image as a hardbop player with younger listeners and older fans who’d forgotten how good he was.

He also nurtured new talent, especially the piano player Herbie Hancock, who appeared on most of Byrd’s mid-period records, including a couple of the Byrd-Pepper sessions, as well as “Free Form” with tenor saxophone player Wayne Shorter, “A New Perspective” with Hank Mobley again and “I’m Trying to Get Home” with Stanley Turrentine on tenor.

By the end of the 1960s, Byrd must have tired of bebop — playing hard takes its toll on a musician — and anyway, by the end of the 1960s, jazz was struggling. So he moved into R&B, fusion and funk and made some serious money, especially with “Blackbyrd,” Blue Note’s biggest seller.

He also became an educator and stayed out of the limelight by the 1980s. Rappers sampled his music, and he must have lived comfortably on the income from his record royalties. From all accounts, Byrd was an unassuming musician even when he led his own groups. He loved to teach and leaves behind a legacy of first-rate jazz from the 1950s and 1960s that will be heard for generations.

Amazingly, the aforementioned Wayne Shorter is recording for Blue Note again after a 40-year absence that took him into similar territory that Byrd inhabited in the 1970s: Shorter’s group Weather Report with Joe Zawinul on keyboards was perhaps the most influential fusion group of the era, but he has returned to more traditional jazz.

Shorter plays tenor and soprano saxophone on “Without a Net,” his newest from Blue Note, which is as daring as anything he has done during his illustrious career.

His definition of jazz is “I dare you.”

He’s never been afraid to walk a tightrope for more than 50 years, starting with the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra and the Jazz Messengers. He made his biggest mark with Miles Davis in the 1960s.

Along the way, he led several important recording sessions on Blue Note. Before that, in the early 1960s, he co-led sessions on the small VeeJay label with Lee Morgan, whose collaboration is available on the astonishing “Complete VeeJay Lee Morgan-Wayne Shorter Sessions” from Mosaic.

Shorter is also heard on two other important Mosaic box sets, “The Complete Blue Note Record-ings of Art Blakey’s 1960 Jazz Messengers” and “The Complete Plugged Nickel Sessions” with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.

In his 80th year, Shorter is better than ever. “Without a Net” is a compilation of live recordings made in Europe in 2011 with a brilliant quartet that includes the Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and Shreveport’s own Brian Blade on drums.

One lovely tune was recorded in Los Angeles with the Imani Winds quartet.

Some of the music is traditional jazz, much of it is free form and all of it is brilliant. After 55 years, Wayne Shorter continues to explore new sounds, taking new ideas from his collaborators, and in the meantime, reinventing the venerable Blue Note label, which has been issuing glorious music since 1939. May it continue for another 74 years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Michael Burks, Iron Man, RIP

Michael (Iron Man) Burks, probably the most successful Arkansas blues musician of the last 10 years, suffered a heart attack Sunday at the Atlanta airport after returning from a European tour. His wife, Bobbie, a 1981 Cabot High School graduate, was with him when Burks collapsed. He was taken to a nearby hospital, but doctors could not revive him. Burks was 54.

Bobbie Burks brought his ashes home to Arkansas on Wednesday and plans a memorial service for him in Camden, Little Rock or Memphis. His family lived in Camden for generations apart from a few years in Milwaukee.

“I just wanted to say thank you to all the love and support from my classmates,” she wrote on the Cabot Class of 1981 Facebook page. “You guys are truly a great group of people…. Thank you for all the prayers. They help more than you could possibly know.”

The Iron Man, who lived in North Little Rock, headlined numerous blues festivals in the U.S. and abroad, including King Biscuit in Helena and the Eureka Springs Blues Festival, as well as smaller ones around the state. He always put on a great show. We were looking forward to his return next month to Sticky Fingerz in Little Rock, where he often played and sometimes just hung around and talked to his fans.

He was built like a middleweight boxer and had a soulful voice and played a powerful guitar reminiscent of another Arkansas bluesman, the late Son Seals. They both recorded for Alligator Records in Chicago, which issued their award-winning CDs, including Burks’ “Iron Man,” “I Smell Smoke” and “Make It Rain.” Burks and Seals: A couple of true legends.

Donations in Michael Burks’ name may be made to the Class of 1981 Memorial Scholarship Foundation, P.O. Box 200, Cabot, Ark. 72023. Donations may also be made to the Handy Artists Relief Trust at