It was thanks to an argument with his wife that Dr. G.B. Burt took up the 12-string guitar. He had been married to the same woman since 1957, and they had seven children. And one night they had a spat that changed Dr. Burt’s life.
“My wife and I got in some kind of an argument, and I just walked on out,” he told us before his death in 2013. “I went up to the Fox Theater there on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and the picture they were playing was the story of Lead Belly. I had never heard of a 12-string guitar in my life, and that’s what he was playing. This was on Gratiot Avenue, and I walk into a pawnshop and there one was, and I bought it.”
He kept playing the 12-string — inventing new tunings and even building 12-strings himself as he searched for the right sounds — even after he moved move south from Detroit to Birmingham, Alabama. He was working as an auto mechanic there, when one day another of our partner artists, the late, great Adolphus Bell, came into his shop.
Adolphus had brought his van to a shop in Birmingham owned by Dr. Burt’s brother-in-law. When nobody could fix the van, they called in Dr. Burt. Talking to Adolphus after the job was over, Dr. Burt mentioned that he played a little guitar. Adolphus asked for a tape and sent it over to Music Maker co-founder Tim Duffy. And Tim learned this man could play guitar and sing even better than he could fix a car.
Dr. Burt was 72 years old when Duffy asked him to jump on a tour to Australia, based on those tapes from Adolphus Bell. Dr. Burt demurred: “You fellows haven’t even let me practice or nothing. Tim told me, ‘We need you.’ And God bless, I got to Australia and walked away with the show. Eight thousand people over there. Incredible.”