What do Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Paul Shaffer, The Neville Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, The Neville Brothers, The Meters, Dr. John, Sarah Vaughan, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Ronnie Woods, Rubin Blades, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Deva Premal have in common? David L McBurnett produced all of them.
In a musical journey touching five decades David is responsible for capturing forever many of our most treasured musical talents while they were in their prime.
Sarah singing with Dizzy; Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis jamming together in a New Orleans nightclub; Carlos Santana and Celia Cruz joyously giving American the Beautiful a Salsa beat; Linda Ronstadt melting voices with Aaron Neville over Christmas and Deva Premal levitating the audience with mantras. This is a true musical renaissance man and his story.
From the time I was born, I heard the piano and various classical compositions and Broadway shows that my folks enjoyed playing on the record player. From the time I could reach a piano, I fell in love with the sound and the feel. But I guess the love of music was already in me. Both my brothers took lessons for brief periods but had no serious interest. My mother played piano but by the time I was five years old her rheumatoid arthritis made it difficult for her to play. My oldest brother developed a love for jazz and would play Dave Brubeck’s classic album Take Five. Today that is still one of my favorite albums and recognized as one of the most influential albums in American musical history.
The first music that grabbed my heart was Flight of the Bumblebee. My wonderful piano (and life) teacher, Alice Voltaire, played this for me when I started lessons at age 5. She had two six foot Steinways side to side in her hillside studio on route 7 on the northwest side of Candlewood Lake, CN. It was in that wonderful studio that my musical life began in earnest. Alice taught me classical, jazz and the blues… I used to have my sheet music from those years and one of the blues songs was “The Professor Gives Out” by Raymond Bird. The Bird was New Orleans’ own Professor Longhair, who many credit with creating rock and roll. Twenty years later in “Jed’s,” I heard and loved the “Professor,” locally known as the “Bird”. Professor Longhair now has the main stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival dedicated to his memory.
I studied piano and performed recitals until I was 12. That was when my already dysfunction family came apart and my folks split for the first time. Alice saw this coming, and at my last lesson took a guitar off the wall and taught me how to tune it and taught me what note each string represented. Seven years of study was enough to keep me connected to the muse. When I was 15 years old, a friend’s parents gave me a guitar that was stuck in their closet. I played at prep school, and at the Exit in New Haven where a helpful older musician gave me some apricot brandy to calm my nerves. That helped me acquire a strong love of the bottle that lasted until I was 46. I was sexually abused at school and received no support or counseling at school, home or from a notified state government agency. When I was 16, I left home, school, the Ivy League track and the rest of that life behind. Thankfully, this was 1968 and the hippy community welcomed all. My brother Stephen was a junior at Harvard, and Cambridge was a thriving hip community with a great music scene. That was the place for me.
Steve’s roommate, Andy Pratt (Avenging Annie) was an up and coming musician with a three piece band in the Hendrix or Cream mode. I soon was carrying equipment for them. Once a roadie always a roadie! Also, the band “Cloud” took me under their wing with Otis Spann as their mentor. J Giles was rocking out and the Boston Tea Party (housed first in an old Synagogue) was one of the great concert venues in the US. It was there that I heard everyone who was anyone and was tagged “David the Boy Wonder” by two surviving members of the Merry Pranksters. I helped on the stage and seemed to get to know everyone. My memories include Faces (Rod Stewart was singing but not named), Velvet Underground (Lou Reed), Traffic ( Steve Winwood), Canned Heat (way too loud), Earth Opera, The Dead, The Airplane, John Lee Hooker (told me I told the truth too much), Van Morrison (fell off the stage), the rest is a bit foggy.
There was also Club 47 in Cambridge, where Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band held court. The Chambers Brothers (Time) and all the major folk singers of that era played that venue. Kweskin and Club 47 had as powerful influence on the Boston scene as the rockers did. That was a golden era of Music in Boston. Hendrix played on Boston Commons for free. Every weekend bands played in a park in Cambridge, and Jazz was Hot! One of those bands, “Ill Wind” got a record contract, and I ended up at Vanguard studios with them. Their bass player was a mentor for me. Sure wished I had played more music and smoked less dope!
Cambridge was a wild place, linked by $60 student plane tickets (no ID required) to San Francisco, an underground railroad to Canada (draft and hope), and an easy drive to NYC or any other part of the Northeast. It was a great place to bloom for a wild young man. Given my lifestyle, it seemed wise to leave the area in the fall of 1968. “The man” was cracking down on those who were bending the law. I drove back to CT., left my car (1960 Peugeot 403) and took off for the Caribbean. I turned 18 in Martinique and returned to the US that spring. After a dangerous trip to Canada, I missed a few months as it was appropriate for me to check into a NY State Mental Hospital to avoid the FBI and the draft. I missed Woodstock but as a friend of mine said, someone had to pay for it!
Returning to CT I worked for my first mentor, Jay Richard Kennedy, turning his barn into a guest house/ office. Jay was a writer, spy, Senior Vice President of Frank Sinatra Inc, and one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet concerning modern history and American politics. Jay was a major player in that era’s history and politics. He fought in the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War (Franco) but left his passport with friends instead of giving it to the American Embassy (that got many blacklisted). Jay fought behind the lines in WWII as he had a real German country accent courtesy of being sent to a German speaking farm in the Midwest when he was orphan at age 12. Jay also negotiated between Roosevelt and the Labor unions toward the end of the war. Hemingway was one of his closest friends. Jay’s assistant told me that you could get drunk just having Hemingway breathe on you. Jay was Hemingway’s inspiration for the character of protagonist, Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Very few people know the true answer to this long sought after mystery. Ask Angela Davis is you don’t believe me.
That summer I met an incredible musician named Duke Edwards. He was playing and writing for a put together “Super Group” called Rhinoceros. Duke was fed up with the NYC music scene, and Warner Brothers was willing to let him out of his contract as long as Warner Brothers had the first look at anything new Duke created. We formed “Papa Duke and the Mud People” a traveling musical commune. We bought two school buses, painted them white and built bunks, storage and roof racks.
Off on down the road we went.
We’re the Mud People, the Mud People…
I drag my feet in the Mud of the Earth
And wrap my body in the Sky!
©David McBurnett & Duke Edwards.
That is how I got to the Promised Land, New Orleans. I went for 3 months stayed for 10 years…then more.
Notes for a work in Progress…