Burrous' blues

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2010

Last Friday, I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with Sammy Burrous, Juneau's infamous bluesman, before his show at the Rendezvous with his band, The Devil's Club. It's a slammin' trio a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, but with a darker edge. While speaking with Sammy beforehand, I asked him for his "elevator pitch" on the band's sound.

Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire

"Contemporary blues would be the short sweet answer," he said, "It's traditional roots music, but I like to add some darkness and some heaviness to it. I love Black Sabbath just as much as I love Robert Johnson."

He listed Albert Collins, Albert King, Freddie King and Johnny "Guitar" Watson as some of his key influences, as well as Jimi Hendrix.

"He's the patron saint of guitar players, there is nothing without him."

At his live shows, it's not uncommon to hear classic blues tunes by many of these players and others, but it would be an insult to call The Devil's Club a cover band.

"It's roots music," he said. "There's a lot of classic songs, and the forms are already there. it's what you do with the form that makes it new, makes it yours."

Sammy first realized that he wanted to be a musician and make his contribution to the blues tradition when he was still in elementary school.

"I was in fourth grade when I found this old tape in the sand, up by the swing set. It had Howling Wolf on one side, Muddy Waters on the other. It was the London sessions, with Clapton and Steve Winwood, and man, I wore that OUT! I listened to that tape every day, but actually, I wanted to play drums until I saw Stevie Ray play."

Ironically, he found out about Vaughan the day that Vaughan's helicopter went down on Aug. 27, 1990, killing the guitar player. Though unquestionably a tragedy, the event was something of a blessing in disguise for Burrous; if Vaughan hadn't died, there's a distinct possibility that Sammy would be behind a drum kit instead of out front under the brights.

Watching Sammy perform, it's easy to see Stevie Ray's influence; I shot some video of the show on Friday night and you can see him tear into two Vaughan classics, "Cold Shot" and "Empty Arms" online at YouTube (Links are available from the online version of this column at thenorthwestsound.blogspot.com). Vaughan's stagemanship obviously rubbed off on Sammy; he has a vicious and exciting playing style, attacking his guitar with the fury that only a true bluesman can conjure.

Before we concluded, Sammy also mentioned that he and The Devil's Club are in the process of releasing a six-song EP on Homeskillet Records out of Sitka, which I'll definitely be reviewing it when it drops in October. It features Sammy, bass player Tom Kollin and drummer Robert Muhler on six tunes, including SRV's "Dirty Pool," and a jam titled "I Gotta Try You."

If you're looking for a blues fix before the album drops, I've heard rumors that The Devil's Club will be performing at a private cocktail party, so ask around about that. Sammy also said that he's trying to get booked at the Breakwater and the Island Pub, and that he and the boys will likely make an appearance at the Alaskan next month. So stay tuned and I'll get you an update in the next installment of the column. Until then, my fellow peace and love makers, farewell!

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