From words of encourgement from B.B. King and Dave Honeyboy Edwards to touring the neighbourhood on the back of a pick up, we chat all things music with Kevin Burt
Mark: Tonight, we are chatting with Kevin, but his latest release, Stone Crazy, which will be released, which was released on the 16th of October on the Gulf Coast records, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us here on the Rock n Blues By Hughes show.
Kevin: Man, thank you so much for reaching out, man It’s an honour.
Mark: You’re more than sir. You’re self-taught musician, vocals, harmonica and guitar. But can you just introduce yourself and give us a little background on yourself and how you started out in the music industry?
Kevin: My name is Kevin Burt. I’m born and raised in Iowa. I started out my world. I believe that I was going to be, I guess, on my end, an American football player, you know, doing the pads and all of that fun stuff, cracking heads up. That’s what I thought I was built for. And it turns out that getting through college and everything, I found out that that was not what I was supposed to do.
The game let me know it was done with me. And I was kind of lost. And so I thought I was going to get into graduate school. And I moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where the University of Iowa is. And I was going to get my master’s degree work toward that.
I put out seven applications to seven different jobs. I got offered five jobs and decided I’ll take all five jobs and not go to school.
That’s not working. And so two full time jobs, three part time jobs. And so I figured if I was going to be awake, I was going to work.
One of the jobs, one of the full time jobs, my person heard me singing in the office one day and stuck her head around the corner and said, damn boy, you can sing my sons, put together a blues band, you need to come audition. And I was like, oh, whatever. You know, it wasn’t on my list of things to do.
And through Hook and Crook kind of tricked me into coming over one night when the band was having a rehearsal and I ended up auditioning and here I am. Twenty seven years later. Now music is what I was supposed to be doing. And so, yeah, it just kind of happened.
Mark: I think it’s five jobs is quite impressive, very impressive in fact, who would you say your early influences were?
Kevin: I’m a big fan of all of the blues masters, but from a standpoint of storytellers, I’m a Huge Bill Withers fan. You know, there’s a way to tell stories that the emotional components of it always fall to a universal spot. Kevin: And he does that. Well, I think there’s a handful of artists that have made everybody feel their music.
And you know folks like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, you know, even some of the Rolling Stones stuff, people feel that music versus just hear it. And it’s one of those things where that’s always a presence in blues.
And so, yeah, so often Bill Withers is probably the biggest influence, I would say.
Mark: And we will touch on that a little bit later on when we get to talking about the album. So how would you describe your music for someone who’s perhaps not heard it before?
Kevin: Well, it is my truth.
It is my observations and my stories based on my vocabulary, not just my vocabulary as a verbal communicator, but my vocabulary as a musician as well. You know, there’s a lot of folks that have a much bigger and broader vocabulary on a guitar or harmonica than I do. But to have one source that has all of that happening all at the same time makes it relatively unique.
And, you know, not that there’s no one else out there doing it. It’s just that I’m the only Kevin Burt that’s doing it.
And so from that into the street, it packages uniquely and forgets it’s emotionally driven.And I really, really hope just when people walk away after hearing it, they walk away with either a different thought or different attitude. Their smile is present. You know, I always tell folks that as a musician, as an entertainer, my job is to walk into a room full of strangers and make them smile at some point. And as a blues performer, it’s my responsibility to make you feel something.
Mark: from the heart basically.
Kevin: And so, yeah, that’s I guess that’s how I describe it. It’s music that’s intended to make you feel like.
Mark: This is your third album. It’s called Stone Crazy. Why have you called it Stone Crazy.
Kevin: It’s actually my second I was like, yeah. Well I get away with it because I have a children’s CD that the folks at Gulf Coast help me put out.
I recorded it when my daughters were very, very young. And so the children’s CD is called My Babie’s Got the Blues (B a b i e s), and it’s just blues versions of children’s music. The funky, bluesy ABC.
Mary had a little lamb, very similar to the way that Buddy Guy did it, except I had in about four other nursery rhymes because they all fall in place with that. My version of Old MacDonald as a kind of a Delta Blues spin to it and I recorded a live with twenty five little kids, my daughters included. And so I feel very privileged. Oh it was so fun.
And that’s probably still the most fun recording because it’s just the kids playing instruments along with me and singing along with me and you just hear a group of kids enjoying a day with blues.
And so trying to get people to see blues from the perspective of a child, you know, it is a beautiful thing.
But that could be the point of confusion. And so but now the Heartland Soul was my first one and Stone Crazy. Is this one Stone Crazy.
This album is overall dedicated. The majority of the songs that are on here are songs that were inspired by my wife or things that have happened inside of my wife’s and my relationship. And so the song on Stone Crazy I actually wrote for my wife.
I’ve taken one guitar lesson in my life and I asked the instructor to teach me some chords that were non-standard in blues and the person showed me a one-four-five progression using seventh chord, which there’s not a voice that standard in blues, but it still falls into that one-four-five used inside that frame.
That still work. So those were the prettiest sounds that I ever made a guitar. And so I wrote a song about the pretty soul in my life at the time and so Stone Crazy, the song I wrote for my wife. And so since she’s been my inspiration and been my rock and my biggest supporter and all of the good things, my best friend on all of the things that you hope that you find over the last twenty six years.
Now, this album is really dedicated to her. That song again was written with her in mind.
Mark: It’s nine originals and one cover. So you had kind of a concept for the album and I’m guessing. Or was it just like individual songs that came together as an album.
Kevin: It was intentional once Guy Hale and Mike Zito kind of put me on the path to find something that one of the things that happened for me inside of a lot of albums is the they don’t have a specific title or a title track has something to do with the title, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the recording. And I really like it when things and you know. It may be my own little display of, you know, obsessive compulsiveness, but I like it when things have some support of order to them or thought.
I think I have a place in my life that being able to present this not necessarily chronologically in order, but in such a way that a story, by the time you listen to the first one, the last one, you actually get that this is a journey of relationships, not just interpersonal, but societal relationships, existential relationships, all of those things that you try to make connections with. Those are things that I tried to tell the ground with in this on this album.
Mark: And then when you were actually writing a song, do you come up with the words first? or is there a riff that goes around and then you take it from there?
Kevin: Sometimes you know, because my vocabulary is not really broad on a guitar. And I don’t know a lot of the theoretical structure that a lot of my compatriots out there know, as a guitarist, I’m limited in vocabulary
And so there’s times that I’ll sit down and I’ll try and find something that is new to me. And that’s what I’m going to do with a guitar, nothing is going to be new. I work with the same stuff, but if it’s new to me, sometimes that’ll lead me into another song, into another story, at least a concept, and then the story takes shape from then.
So that’s one of the ways that happens. Sometimes a story or an idea wins the day. And I’ll actually write the poem, Or write the story and then see what that emotion takes me, see the direction that that emotion is trying to drive me.
And then there’s certain sounds that you put around. If it’s a little more sombre, a little more thoughtful, you know, I might add tones are going to need to exist inside of it somewhere. If it’s, you know, a little more light-hearted, a little more bouncy, it’s going to need to be a faster song, you know, faster told story.
And so, you know, as cliche as it sounds, you know, those are the things that kind of dictated the emotion, the emotion of the story I’m trying to tell really dictates everything else.But from song to it just depends. You know, a lot of stories emerge before the music, but the reverse has happened before as well.
Mark: You said you mentioned earlier that Bill Withers was one of your influences and you’ve got Your Better Off Dead cover on the album there. What made you choose that particular track?
Kevin: There were a handful of songs that were suggested by Mike Zito and Guy Hale that were a handful of songs, there were a couple of Bill Withers songs on, but one of the things that was missing in my my story is the relationship sometimes that people have that they don’t want necessarily the world to know about.
And addiction is a relationship where the folks want to acknowledge it that way or not. And this song hits a lot closer to home than a lot of folks know about. My eldest brother passed away a couple of years ago from alcohol abuse. And so this song is as much an attempt for me to heal a little bit from that as it is just one of just a song that I’ve always done.
You know, it’s just a I’m a fan of this story. And again, it hits a lot closer to home than a lot of folks would know without me caring, you know, but that’s. Point of this is to share.
Mark: I’m picking up on it’s a very intensely personal album this album you’ve produced, Stone Crazy.
Kevin: Absolutely. I mean, that’s to me, that’s the way it ought to be.
I mean, I want people to want to listen to the entire album. I don’t want them to go, oh, this is the song that I like on this. I want people to always enjoy the entire album.It just seems that’s a really, really important component for me, is that every song could be favourite, you know, because they’re personal for me, because I look forward to performing each one when I’m out, when I’m able to be out on the road.
Mark: And the band on the album is Doug Birkett on bass, Matthew Johnson on drums, Lewis Stevens on keys,Jimmy Carpenter on sax and Mike Zito on guitar. How did you arrive at that Line-Up?
Kevin: It’s pretty much Mikes road band and then add on a fellow Gulf Coast artist, Jimmy Carpenter. All of those folks I said the studio work, the studio is kind of like a it’s another planet for me or my first 20 some odd years of my career. All I’ve done is live recording. I’ve never really spent much time in the studio and so the heart Heartland Soul recording was my first real studio recording. This is actually just my second real studio recording, and so I I’m really quite uncomfortable in the studio.It’s a different landscape.And so to keep it as comfortable as possible, Mike brought in people that he was remarkably comfortable playing with and that allowed me to be the one uncomfortable entity in the room, you know, and it’s my responsibility to deal with that, and it changes everything. I Got a lot more comfortable because I’m hanging out with friends at that point, you know.And so it was the fellows are top notch professionals, but beyond that, they’re just good people.And so to be in the room and to be able to share the stories with the fellows and for them to know, have connections with my family, know my wife, know where my heart is coming from when I’m singing these songs, it made a difference, I think.And then the emotional capture.
Mark: You just mentioned that you’re more of a live artist than a studio recording artist, and you’re a prolific live performer. You do 300 to 400 shows a year and with some of the greats as well. B.B. King, Coco Taylor, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins,Luther Allison, Bernard Allison the list goes on and on and on and on and on. Do you have a standout moment from any of those gigs?
Kevin: You know, the one of the first big, big opportunities I got was to open four for Mr. B.B. King. And it was back in the early 90s and I was just getting started really with this, you know, being a guitarist and all of these things and so I had to do all my own material. I couldn’t do any covers. That was part of the contract.And so I’m backstage and, you know, I got pterodactyls, to hell with butterflies.I had full on flying around in my gut and I found a dark spot on the back side of the stage that I thought I was just going to sit and be alone for a minute and trying to collect myself.
I had my head down, my eyes closed, and I feel somebody come sit down next to me. And initially I thought it was my wife and I felt a hand on my knee that was absolutely not my wife’s hand. And I got startled for a second. Then I heard the person next to me say, “You know, when I was a young man, I knew that if I ever got to the point where I could play three hundred shows a year, I was going to be OK. I just had to stick with it” and I opened my eyes and I looked up next to me with his hand on my knee with Mr. B.B. King, and he looked me in the eyes, he said “Son, you’re going to be just fine”, and he patted my knee and he got up and walked away, I said, thank you, Mr. King, and, you know, almost peed on myself,I mean, it was just it was a beautifully humbling and frightening moment.
But for him to share that information with me at that moment, it hit home and it made me realise that I, just from the king of the blues, I had just been encouraged to not give up and not not falter.
And so every person that I’ve gotten a chance to,everybody that I have considered, that I consider a legend and many that I had just got the opportunity to be blessed enough to me.They’ve all offered me some little snippet of wisdom that has come in handy on my journey.
And so, you know, one of that was one one of the best is I did a show with David Honeyboy Edwards, and this was really early in my solo career. And I was I was pretty stumbling on the guitar as a player when I first got started, but I needed enough noise to sing to I could always the singing with my face, I could honk and speak a little bit on the harmonica, make this enough noise to sing to.
And I got done with my set opening for Mr. Edwards and there were crickets in the room. I mean, no one made a peep. I said thank you. And I kind of hit my head down and started walking off stage and I had to walk down some stairs to get off the stage and stand at the bottom of the stairs with a guitar with Mr Edwards.
And Mr Edwards looked at me and waited for me to look him in the eyes. And he said he looked at me and he said, “Boy, if you play for applause, that’s all you’re going to ever get. You did just fine”. I said thank you. And I just went and I sat down and I thought about what he had just said to me. And when I realised the power of what he just said to me, I stood back up. I walked back on that stage and I waited for him to look at me and I said “Thank you” because I needed that. I needed those words in that moment, because out of this, you can get anything you want. If you want money or to meet some women if that’s what to do. But if you’re playing for something more than that, you know, if you’re doing this and it’s for something more than than than those superficial things, then you’ve got something that’s worth working for. And Mr Edwards taught me that lesson in that moment.So, yeah, there’s been a whole bunch of them.
Mark: The Covid situation has a big impact on the music business, certainly in the UK, How have your plans changed because as i said you are a prolific tourer, have you managed to get out at all?
Kevin: No, not really. I’m starting to find some some small small shows, some outdoor shows, and those are going to disappear in my area soon.I mean, sneaking up on wintertime and was too cold to be outside.And it’s for me, it’s not real safe.There’s not a real safe venue indoors right now.And so when your job is is basically to get a bunch of people into a small space and do the exact opposite of social distance, it puts a damper on on what your plans may or may not have been.And so if the venues can’t put enough people in into a place to make it make financial sense for them to be open, hardly bringing in entertainment is a worse idea.
So I’ve just had to be very creative.You know, for a chunk of this summer, I did what I called a Truckload of Soul concert series and what I did with a set up in the back of a pickup truck and the pickup had power outlets in it.And so I was able to plug my sound system in and I drive into a neighbourhood park on the edge of the street. People would come out, get in their driveways and hang out with me. And I’d sing that.I played about a half an hour with the folks would either put tips on through Venmo or PayPal that way. Some people would would would physically put some money in a bucket I had. And then I’d drive to another neighbourhood.And I do that three or four times in in an evening on specific dates and just do it in different communities, different neighbourhoods in my home area.And so I’m just trying to salvage some of the summertime music and that feel that people love.
Mark: And so what’s next for Kevin, I album, as I say that on the 13th of October, have you started work on a new album, I know, it’s only a matter of weeks, but have you got some songs perhaps in the back draw somewhere?
Kevin: Absolutely. Absolutely. I actually recorded while I was in the studio, I actually recorded let’s see, we had what we put 11 songs on this or 10 ten original songs on this or nine original songs. And so I actually recorded, I actually got recorded like twenty, twenty five songs while I was in the studio.And so I’ve got some things that are kind of, you know, as I say, they’re,in the cocoon sort of order and they’re trying to mature into what it is that they’re supposed to be.But I went ahead since I was in the studio and I recorded some songs that I think are about done and some other songs that are more conceptual, that haven’t really evolved to be what they’re supposed to be.But in the hands of now, I’ve got not only my mind working on them from time to time, but when Mike Zito feels feels like he can pull them out, mess with them as well. And having that as we move forward and think about the next project, that those things are already in the works, I guess in a sense.
Mark: Excellent.So where can I listeners find out more about Stone Crazy and where can they get a copy of the album?Most importantly.
Kevin: If they if they go to my website www.KevinBurtmusic.com, they can check that information on how to pick up any and all of my music if folks want to follow me on Instagram or Facebook and that kind of stuff again.Kevin Burt @Kevin BurtMusic is the best way to do it and yeah that’s to try to keep things simple and easy. So if you can remember @KevinBurtmusic, that’s usually that’s going to get closer than anything.
Mark: That’s perfect. Thank you very much. Thanks again for taking time to chat with us here on the Rock and Blues By Hughes Show. It’s a really fantastic album, And as I say, if you head over to Kevinburtmusic.com, you can pick up a copy there today.
Kevin: Man, thank you so much for this opportunity. Honestly, folks like yourselves that have been promoting the music and not just mine, but just the music in general manager you’all of the ones right now you’all the ones that are keeping all of the artists in a spot where we still feel like we’re connected. So thank you so much for everything that you’re doing right now.It is. Appreciated.
You’re most welcome. You’re more than welcome. It’s very kind of you to say that.
And thanks again. All right. Take care. Big love, everybody.