It was thanks to an argument with his wife – married to the same woman since 1957 with seven children – that Dr. G.B. Burt took up the Twelve-String. “My wife and I got in some kind of an argument and I just walked on out,” Dr. Burt remembers. “I went up the 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 twelve string guitar in my life and that’s what he was playing. And I just so happened again and this was on Gratiot Avenue, walk into a pawnshop and there one was and I bought it.”
How We Helped:
Music Maker helped Dr. G.B. Burt obtain a passport, provides him with a monthly stipend for his utility bills, and recorded his first CD. Music Maker also helped Dr. G.B. Burt set up gigs in Byron Bay, Australia, multiple extensive tours of Europe, and performances at the Apollo Theatre and Lincoln Center in New York.
Dr. G. B. Burt (named after his father known as Dr. G.B.) talks a lot about chance – the lucky showing of the Lead Belly film, the pawnshop with the twelve-string guitar – but his luck is also locked in with ingenuity. His Dad taught him to fix cars and that same figure-it-out spirit spilled into the guitar problem. “I decided I wanted another twelve in order to play two different ways because I got two different sounds on it,” Dr. Burt explains, holding up his uniquely styled guitar. “Everywhere I look for that twelve, they didn’t have what I was looking for so I decided to build me one, turn this six-string into a twelve-string.”
Dr. G.B. Burt also plays with his own special tuning, morphing his guitar into the sound of two guitars – what he calls the sound of an organ or a piano. He must be just as good with a car as he is with a guitar because that’s how he got hooked up with the MusicMaker Relief Foundation. Adolphus Bell had brought his van in to a shop in Birmingham owned by Dr. G.B. Burt’s brother-in-law. When nobody could fix the van, they called in Dr. G.B. Burt, now living back in Birmingham. Talking to Adolphus after the job was over, Dr. G.B. mentioned that he played a little guitar. Adolphus asked for a tape and sent it over to Tim Duffy. This man could play guitar and sing even better than he could fix a car.
Dr. G.B. Burt is still a little bit amazed at his change of fortune. Unlike some of the other MusicMakers, he had pretty much played on the side. When Tim 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 peoples over there. Incredible.”
Not so incredible if you hear the music. Dr. G.B. Burt mixes covers with his own songs. Even the covers have an original touch because Dr. G. B. Burt does not abide by violence. “Like in Ain’t That Loving You.,” Dr. G. B. lays out his reasoning, “Jimmy Reed would say, ‘He’s gonna shoot that man with a cannonball.’ I never use that because that is violent to me. I say, ‘I’ll crawl, walk if she get back home to you.’ I just change it like that.”
Dr. G. B. Burt likes to remind us, “At 72 the door has opened for me.” When we hear his music, he reciprocates, opening and reopening the door to a totally traditional, totally original musical world.
-Written by Susan Simone
Dr. Burt passed away in November 2013.