Years ago, Adolphus Bell, the Worlds Greatest One Man Band, drove up from Birmingham, Alabama to do a recording session with us. While here he delivered a cassette and promo photo of Dr. GB Burt, a fellow that had helped him fix his broken down van. Listening to the cassette later that week, I was blown away. It was the worst sounding demo I had heard in my life, recorded on the cheapest cassette, which had been recorded on over and over, the guitar was blaring and distorted, the vocals we muted and clear as a bell at the same time. The incredible purity and talent somehow transcended the medium. I had to meet this guy.
The next month Adolphus drove Dr. Burt up to Music Maker to record. My first question was how did he get his incredible raunchy guitar sound. He smiled and showed me his beautiful electric 12-string guitar. I asked what amps he used and he smiled again, I used two Marshall Stacks (these are the most powerful amps that were designed by Pete Townshend of The Who). I asked him where did you do that? He smiled, and said “In my kitchen.”
We tried to recreate that sound on his first record; we got close but not all the way.
The most striking thing about Dr Burt was his presence. When you were with him, it felt like you were in the presence of a man of deep spirituality. He always was smiling, he did not say much, but when he did he spoke honestly and beautifully.
He told me, “I grew up in Birmingham, but my family traveled the family around the country as my father followed the work. We ended up in Portland, Oregon, where he worked in the shipyards during the Great War. As a teenager I became a boxer and that was my living from 16 years old into my 30s; I traveled all over the country boxing. In the late 1950s I decided to go back home to Birmingham to visit my people. When I jumped off the train and was walking the tracks, five white men attacked me, I do not know why; we fought and they left me for dead. Then I was hauled off to the police station and was arrested for attempted murder. I went to prison for five years. That was a very difficult time.
When I got out the Civil Rights was going on. My mother was very involved and was very high up in the organization. I joined in, was trained in non-violence by Correta King.
They set the dogs on me and my friends, had the hoses put on, but we went on. I helped organize a march in Detroit; a fellow took aim at me with his rifle trying to kill me, the bullet went through my right hand, and I have had trouble ever since playing the guitar like I wanted to.”
I then knew I had a true American Patriot at my home. One who truly was a believer in non-violence. Oh, I forgot to mention his grandmother was a Cherokee Indian who died on the Trail of Tears.
Soon, we had great pictures of Burt and they just glowed his beautiful soul. He was immediately hired to go to Australia with the Music Maker Blues Revue. Dr Burt, who had never played outside of church or for a family picnic, had begun his professional career. When he walked on stage in front of 5,000 people for his first show, people began to clap, and everyone stood up. Burt, who is a very skinny man almost 7 feet tall, wore his denim jacket and cowboy hat with a feather tied in. Tears fell from his eyes. Afterwards he told us all that was the greatest moment of his life. He received the same response at the rest of the shows. The tour ended in Tasmania where we played the Tasmanian Royal Botanical Gardens. Dr Burt performed between Keith Urban and John Fogharty. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
We stayed an extra day in Tasmania and I took them to them to a national park, we saw a platypus in the wild, waterfalls, woods. Burt was truly amazed “By God’s creations,” and the trip, “blew his mind.”
Since that trip, Burt has played many prestigious venues. At the Lincoln Center Out of Doors, to my amazement he got another standing ovation before he played. He traveled to Europe with the Music Maker Revue, and started to be asked back regularly. In Montpellier, France, there is a huge mural of him on a wall. It is off the first photo we had sent off to promoters. Coming back from a recent trip, Burt told me that they took him to a museum they had in the city. The director told Burt to look up and there was his photo beautifully mounted on the ceiling. He asked why it was up there not on the walls with everyone else. The director told him, “this way everyone has to look up to you…”
We sent young interns to his home; everyone who visited Burt related to me that he had changed their lives. Dr Burt had truly had all his dreams he had as a young man come to him in his old age.
This fall he was scheduled to go on tour in France. In the spring there to be was a multi-country Revue style tour and Burt was the headliner.
Then we got the news Burt was in the hospital and he was not well. He had to cancel all his tours; he was in Detroit with his wife and she told us he would never be going back to Birmingham. Burt was in ICU. When we contacted him he was cheerful, and his only request when Aaron asked him what he needed was if we could get him some gigs in Detroit.
Eventually, Burt was out of the hospital and back at his home in Detroit. His wife was taking public transportation to the hospital, which took many hours. She called us for money for a car to help get Dr Burt to doctor’s appointments.
Aaron told her that the best solution was to call a hospice service to help her. She did not want to do this, as Burt would know he was dying. Aaron called hospice and they were not surprised about this response. Aaron set up a meeting and, God bless them, they talked her through it and were able to get involved in Dr. Burt’s care.
When I talked to Burt last week he was at home with a special bed and a wheel chair. He was very happy to be in Detroit and was looking forward to getting well and spending some time with his great grand-kids; he had been away so long he had not taken them fishing. He was going to do that, and then get back to playing guitar. He talked to me, Aaron and Tom Ciaburri and made us all feel great and that we would see him on the road soon.
We hung up, just to get a call back from his wife. Despite Burt’s bright outlook, the doctor had told them that Burt would not live much longer. Dr Burt is still going, and all his MM friends have been giving him a ring. They all tell us the same; he is in good spirits and made them feel better.
If you want to contact Dr Burt you can write him a letter (12428 Sherman Ave, Warren, MI 48089), or you can even call him, I’m sure he’d love it. His telephone number is 586 404 1002.
God Bless Dr. Burt, he will always be my inspiration. He taught me – never turn to anger, always look for love, violence is not the answer, peace is the only way.