Q&A with Midwest-based musician Kevin Burt - dispelling the myth that true blues has no roots in Iowa

"In my opinion, Blues is the “Folk Music” of North American Blacks. It is the only folk music that other cultures declare that they know it, understand it, can play it, better than its cultural creators. For example, there are not multiple societies of people in Mexico with multiple local bands saying, let’s give the people some polka. As a culture, I believe that more Black Folks in North America need to reconnect, support, appreciate and respect all of the cultural contributions North American Blacks have given to the world. I believe it’s accessibility to everyone, emotionally, makes it the perfect medium to bring people together."

Kevin Burt: The Truths of The World

Kevin Burt releases his brand new album Stone Crazy on October 16, 2020, via Gulf Coast Records. The album was produced by musician/producer Mike Zito and was recorded at Marz Studios in Nederland, TX. Stone Crazy, Burt’s first album on the Gulf Coast Records label, is comprised  of ten songs, all written by Burt, with the exception of the Bill Withers tune, "Better Off Dead." Burt describes songwriting as, "a journey," a journey in which he tells stories of observations he’s made along the way. The songs on Stone Crazy are his observations and experiences in life that have shaped how he views love and relationships. Kevin’s wife, Nicole, his muse and biggest influencer, is the inspiration for many of the songs on Stone Crazy. For more than 25 years, Kevin Burt has been electrifying audiences throughout the Midwest, while simultaneously dispelling the myth that true blues has no roots in Iowa. His soul-inspired presentation is unique -- consistently getting him compared to a range of artists such as Bill Withers and Aaron Neville -- with the ability to build an audience rapport that has been compared to B.B. King. Burt is a self-taught musician (vocals, harmonica, and guitar) whose smooth, warm vocal presentation sets a mood of relaxed exhilaration, with a welcome mixture of serious music and infectious humor that audiences of all ages seem to enjoy.

His voice and presence are powerful. His unique delivery ranges from the sweetest, fullest, juiciest come-on to the most playful growl. Kevin Burt has won many awards and played many festivals, both solo and with his band. In 2018, Kevin “B.F.” Burt crushed it at the Blues Foundations 34th International Blues Challenge (IBC), taking home top honors in three categories. Kevin won first place in Solo/Duo, (the Cigar Box Guitar Award recognized him as the best guitar player in the Solo/Duo category), and the Lee Oskar Award for Best Harmonica Player. Burt was among over two-hundred bands and solo/duo acts from around the world entered into the five-day event on Beale Street. In 2019, Burt was nominated for a Blues Music Award for his debut album, Heartland And Soul (Best Emerging Artist Album) and was also inducted in the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

It’s Roots music.  It’s at the heart of everything musically I do. Blues music of the past, has always tried to lead us toward our future. It has and will always be at my core. As far as my journeys are concerned it has opened doors for me that I never knew existed. I’ve gotten to see that the world is much bigger than where you are comfortable. The emotions that drive the music are universal. I think its amazing to see packed rooms in other countries where English is not the native language be more into the music than rooms at home.  My emotional connection with the music is what I think allows me to connect emotionally with the audience. I realize that connection is a huge part of what I do.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is me trying to be true to my roots, my emotions, and my truths. My music is driven by what it means to me within my world. My family, my faith, my community, and my observations drive my creativity. Mostly my family. The pain, frustration, joy, anger, love, everything that is being felt and is observable can be inspiring.

"If I can tell a story from a position of vulnerability, there are countless other souls that may not be able to find the words to express themselves. As songwriters we never know the impact our words have on someone else unless we get to hear their story some day. That type of thing is happening more and more as my touring base grows." (Photo: Kevin Burt)

Are there any memories from gigs and tours which you’d like to share? What was the best advice ever gave you?

Every time I get to share time at festivals with other artists, I receive some lesson. One of the biggest blessings to me is that I have what I call my “Music Family”. Some are musicians, some are fans that have become friends. Of that group, some become more like family because they genuinely care for the wellbeing of my family and I develop the same connection to theirs. These folks are the “Righteous Souls” in my world. It’s amazing to have people like this in your life. The best piece of advice I’ve been given, is probably two fold. In different ways I’ve been told multiple times, to never be ashamed, apologetic, or afraid to be yourself.  You are what makes you unique. The second, my brother(on the righteous soul level) tells me almost every time we get together, “What’s understood, never needs to be explained.”

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

I miss that talent used to outshine image. I miss that music used to be viewed as valuable, now people believe it should be free. I hope that after a pandemic took live music away, that people have a new appreciation for it and will choose to go out to support it rather than stay inside binge watching re-runs. I fear that the use of music genres will keep people segregated and keep music that people from different backgrounds from having points of commonality and possibly truly connecting.

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

I’d like to see a way to make streaming music accountable for artist royalties at the same rates as any other medium. Song writers and performers deserve to be compensated.

"My sound is me trying to be true to my roots, my emotions, and my truths. My music is driven by what it means to me within my world. My family, my faith, my community, and my observations drive my creativity. Mostly my family. The pain, frustration, joy, anger, love, everything that is being felt and is observable can be inspiring." (Photo: Kevin Burt)

What would you say characterizes Midwest (Iowa) blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Quiet as it’s kept, Iowa is a great scene for Blues. There are 8 pretty active Blues Societies within Iowa. Geographically, 4 hours in any direction and I’m in major market cities. People are familiar with the sound of Chicago Blues, Kansas City Blues, St. Louis Blues, but because Iowa is not viewed  as having a signature sound, I can create by using all of the influences around me to bring something that has points of familiarity without having to conform to a geographic preconceived sound. My Blues can be driven by my emotions. It doesn’t need to have a specific beat or chord progression. It’s my blues because I declare it to be, but mostly because I want you to feel it. Because of that, Iowa is great place to perform. Another big thing here is that the local scene is really supportive of touring acts.  

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

Every opportunity to perform is a blessing. It’s always the last show you’ll ever do, until the next one.  Always respect the blessing.  You may never get the opportunity again.

If I can tell a story from a position of vulnerability, there are countless other souls that may not be able to find the words to express themselves. As songwriters we never know the impact our words have on someone else unless we get to hear their story some day. That type of thing is happening more and more as my touring base grows.

What is the impact of Blues and Soul on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

In my opinion, Blues is the “Folk Music” of North American Blacks. It is the only folk music that other cultures declare that they know it, understand it, can play it, better than its cultural creators. For example, there are not multiple societies of people in Mexico with multiple local bands saying, let’s give the people some polka. As a culture, I believe that more Black Folks in North America need to reconnect, support, appreciate and respect all of the cultural contributions North American Blacks have given to the world. I believe it’s accessibility to everyone, emotionally, makes it the perfect medium to bring people together.

"I miss that talent used to outshine image. I miss that music used to be viewed as valuable, now people believe it should be free. I hope that after a pandemic took live music away, that people have a new appreciation for it and will choose to go out to support it rather than stay inside binge watching re-runs."

(Kevin Burt / Photo by Dylan Huey)

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

This is really tough. I’d really like to experience some of the iconic musical moments in history, but unfortunately, as a black man in this country, going back in history doesn’t mean I’d be granted access to those events. It would be amazing to have conversations with different souls I admire throughout history.  Possibly go back to the day I met my wife, and just fall for her again. I might be inclined to just go back and change a decision or two that I made. Maybe convince my younger self to begin my musical journey more seriously at a younger age.

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