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 blues.org.