Interview with veteran musician Adrian Byron Burns - rare performer who is dedicated to keeping music as an art

"I’ve learned a common humanity and that we all basically are looking for the same things. Blues is an expression of the desire we all have to be understood."

Adrian Byron Burns: A Blues Torch

Adrian Byron Burns is considered to be one of the most exciting performers around today. Singer-songwriter Adrian speaks a variety of musical dialects. Blues, reggae, rock, bluegrass, jazz. A native of Arlington County, Virginia and a current resident of France, he’s been recording since the mid-70s. In 1969, while living in his native America, Adrian opened shows for Neil Young and Ritchie Havens on the East Coast which led to a European tour in 1971 with other 'young talents'. The tour took him through Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia and provided the incentive for him to remain in Europe. Late 1972 saw him as a member of a band called 'Talisman' in Germany which opened shows for Alexis Korner, Little Richard, Vinegar Joe, Curved Air and Marmalade to name just a few. He also had the chance to play with Champion Jack Dupree. Adrian moved to England in 1974 and a year later, signed a contract with Splash Records , who released thru EMI two singles (soul oriented) and an album thru PYE in 1976. That same year saw him join Jimmy James & the Vagabonds.

From 1979, Adrian's style began to emerge as he performed with musical friends from different backrounds such as Jim Mullen, Sally Barker, Tommy Chase and Mick Pini. Adrian has toured through Europe as well as Asia and the U.S. He has and continues to play in many Festivals and has shared the stage with such artists as B.B. King, Luther & Bernard Allison, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, The Dubliners, The Ford Blues Band, Marva Wright, Louisiana Red, Otis Grand, Roy Rodgers, Johnny Mars, Gregg Wright, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, John Renbourne and many others. Adrian is featured on the Rhythm Kings Albums "Groovin" and "Double Bill". He has toured with them throughout the U.K. during the past two years. He has made nine albums and for the past last years, Adrian has gained fame as a solo artist, both for his fabulous voice and for his incredible acoustic work. He has garnered praise for his compositions and for the originality of his interpretations of songs by Hendrix, Sting, Lennon & McCartney, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and many others. Adrian has also been voted 'Acoustic Artist of the Year' 1999 & 2000 by the British Blues Connection and Blueprint Magazine. In 2019, Adrian released his new album "Et Caetera", elaborate various influences, drawing on his emotions and desire to make a beautiful, original album.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I’ve learned a common humanity and that we all basically are looking for the same things. Blues is an expression of the desire we all have to be understood.

When we talk about Jazz and Blues usually refer past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

We refer to past moments because they’re always there to refer to like history, but it continues and lives! As long as there are musicians who play, there will be Jazz & Blues.

How do you describe Adrian Byron Burns sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Trying to describe the sound would be… difficult.  I borrow from a lot of different influences and always open to others that might come into my field. My philosophy is that music is a language with many different dialects. Blues, Reggae, Rock, Bluegrass, Jazz; these are all dialects... all a part of the language. It’s the language that interests me most!

"Music is far more than youth culture, its collective communication of our lives, experiences and history. I fear the medium may be narrowed even farther by the monied interests of companies that care more for profit than culture." (Photo: Adrian Byron Burns on stage)

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?

Like most artists, relationships, other life experiences…. Views you might like to share whether political or just weird things that happen to one along the way… Songs reflect experiences whether positive or negative.

How do you describe your songbook and lyrics? Where does your creative drive come from?

The drive comes from the joy of still breathing every morning! Life has ways of throwing all sorts of things your way! I'm blessed to live in a wonderful part of the world and to enjoy my “job”!!!

How has the Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I'm not sure that the blues has influenced my views... Being black has, as it also has influenced the way others both see and deal with us as a people. Of course, blues is an expression of that experience. It changes in time and from country to country...

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I’m hoping that the most interesting times still lie ahead of me.  As for best moments... There are a lot on that list. Time past in company with a LOT of great artists; Neil Young, B.B. King, Robert Cray, Tommy Emmanuel, John Renbourne, Robert Plant, Bill Wyman, Albert Lee…and on and on… As for the worst, I don’t waste time thinking about them. As a certain song says, ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention…’

Why did you think that the Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Blues for me reflect our emotive life…. It’s about feelings. Jazz for me reflects intellect and invention. Improvisation is for me an exploration into other means of expression. This touches us all in some way.  We’re all looking to communicate in the various means we’ve been given as we’re social animals that need to share and grow. That makes jazz and blues relevant to any and all generations.

"My philosophy is that music is a language with many different dialects. Blues, Reggae, Rock, Bluegrass, Jazz; these are all dialects... all a part of the language. It’s the language that interests me most!"

What would you say characterizes your new work "Et Caetera" (2019) in comparison to other previous albums?

It's my most adventurous and complete work. It's not a “blues” album  It's a MUSIC album which reflect far more my influences than ever before! The range of musicians is far wider and a lot of the song writing was collaborative.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Oh man! In forty years of playing, there’s far too many to try to describe or to share. Jamming with Robbie McIntosh and Tommy Emmanuel probably stand out as they’re just too damned good! You can’t stand with them without having your horizons expanded.  Gigging with Jon Gomm is great as he expanded my imagination as to what playing guitar can mean if you free yourself from what you think the instrument can do. Louisiana Red was someone who’s emotional deliverance went well beyond simple technique. Everyone I’ve had the blessing to play alongside has given me something beneficial.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Neil Young was extremely influential in many ways. He cured my stage fright, and taught me to try to be as honest as possible in my music. Time spent with Luther Allison has been very important to me as well. To tell the truth, virtually all the great musicians I’ve met have left their mark on me.  The best advice to me has been: “There are musicians and players in our business. Musicians play because they love the music. Players play because they want to be loved.”

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us?

My first time in the studio with Bill Wyman & the Rhythm Kings was pretty awesome.  Sharing space with some of the biggest legends in the business; people I’d idolized for years was very intimidating, but they’re very warm and generous people.

"I miss the liberty and freedom radio used to have where much more varieties of music were played and thus people were more attentive to the vast array of music that exists. " (Photo: Adrian Byron Burns)

From the musical point of view what are the differences between American and European Blues scene?

Very little really! I think Europeans are more fixated on tradition than my countrymen… Not that we don’t respect tradition, but we don’t feel we need to be bound by it. I think Americans are more open to evolution and freedom of expression. As for the gigging aspect, it’s a hard road no matter where you live.

Make an account of the case of the blues in France. What characterize the sound and philosophy of local scene?

The interesting thing is that you have a healthy variety of styles being practised; not just “Chicago”, or “Texas”, or “New Orleans” style... If I had to criticize at all, it would be that most practitioners (ESPECIALLY guitarists) spend an inordinate time perfecting their playing and almost no time invested in their singing...

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I get a lot of pleasure and humour when playing gigs where old fans turn up…. Especially those who were kids when I last saw them. A fan showed up in the south of France whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty year brandishing a cassette that he bought at a gig in Holland… He showed up with his son and grandson… I was flabbergasted!!

What do you miss most nowadays from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I miss the liberty and freedom radio used to have where much more varieties of music were played and thus people were more attentive to the vast array of music that exists. Mass media has reduced the public’s attention to a very narrow band where pop dominates and it has ruined musical culture. Music is far more than youth culture, its collective communication of our lives, experiences and history.  I fear the medium may be narrowed even farther by the monied interests of companies that care more for profit than culture.

"I think Europeans are more fixated on tradition than my countrymen…. Not that we don’t respect tradition, but we don’t feel we need to be bound by it. I think Americans are more open to evolution and freedom of expression." (Photo: Adrian Byron Burns & The Boogie Band at Secret Jazz Co.)

Are there any memories from Neil Young, B.B. King, and Luther Allison which you’d like to share with us? Which memory from Gary Booker, Charlie Musselwhite, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Burns makes you smile?

Great memories!! Getting a hug from B.B. King, just being able to converse with Neil Young and laughing and joking with Luther...Sitting on the tour bus and singing with Gary Brooker (Procol Harum). There's a lot of great memories!!!

My fondest memories are of the places where I met these fine individuals. I’ve sang gospel with Gary in a tour bus, shared some wonderful moments with Bill, I remember sitting and passing time with Charlie Musselwhite and Robert Cray, and Jimmy and I are like family.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

Ha! Ha! It's a jungle out there! No, seriously it is!! It's no place for the faint-hearted! I look on my work as if I were a doctor or lawyer. You need to work and maintain your dignity as a professional. There's too many jokers who think it's a great way to earn money without investing a lot! Sorry, it doesn't work!!!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The state of professionalism. There's too many sharks in the water! Too many people think that musicians shouldn't be paid much because we “enjoy” the job. That job was a choice made and not either easily or cheaply...

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from late great Champion Jack Dupree?

Champion Jack was a joker and a gentleman. He had philosophy of seating arrangements (Good looking single ladies in the first rows, good looking married ladies after that, Modest looking single ladies after that, etc.) that was absolutely hilarious!

"We live in a world that is renewing it's romance with the ideologies of fascism, greed and fear. Blues culture is a witness to the times and the will to not only survive, but prosper despite adversities."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz, Bluegrass and Folk music?

Simply put, an evolution of expression and art. Musical dialects converge to tell a rich story of man’s attempt to describe life in experience and in passing. For me, it’s as rich as literature or cinema. There are always tales to tell.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

I think this is a question you've had answered a million times. Blues is an expression of the life of a people in sufferance. It's less of a form (Though there are those who try to reduce it to that…) than an expression. All oppressed people have their form of “blues”... Indians, Mexicans, Gitanes, as well as black people (and not exclusive to them) have found means of soulful testament to their suffrances. We live in a world that is renewing it's romance with the ideologies of fascism, greed and fear. Blues culture is a witness to the times and the will to not only survive, but prosper despite adversities.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

It's ALL those things and more! As I said; soulful expression. You find soulful expression in bluegrass and country music as well, but in “blues and gospel” you have a black roots expression. It goes back to Africa, it resonates the sounds of passage, of chains, of whips and of seeking salvation and deliverance. It also speaks of the everyday... Of love and heartbreak and the joy of children and the pain of misunderstanding... It is an all- spice; a condiment not only good each day, but somewhat essential...

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Wow! Only a day??? Hmmm…. That would be so difficult to chose. Maybe Paris during the fifties when Black Americans were first coming to Europe to tour. That must have been an interesting period!!!

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