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Bar napkin autographed by Rusty Burns after playing with him in 1995. Photo by Jeff Prince.

One of Fort Worth’s most pivotal, pioneering rock guitarists has gone to that great jam in the sky. After a long battle with lung cancer, Rusty Burns died on Friday, Feb. 19. He was 63.

Burns, who played left-handed with his strings upside down, developed a sound all his own. He sprinkled fast and gritty runs amid soulful and melodic foundations, making him the perfect sideman for everyone, from in-yo-face rockers such as Point Blank to Texas Music singer-songwriters such as Brad Hines. Burns played riffs on his well-worn white Stratocaster to support the song being performed rather than tearing off licks that made him look like a badass.

Point Blank was one of the earliest rock bands to utilize two electric guitarists –– Burns and Kim Davis, who died in 2010 –– to create harmony lead breaks. That band broke up in 1982, but Burns continued to reinforce his place as a North Texas guitar god for decades, most recently with blues rockers Big Wampum. We folks at the Fort Worth Weekly presented Burns with a Hall of Fame award at our 2015 Music Awards celebration.

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Burns wore a cowboy hat in the 1970s, helping establish the hippie-’poke look that was popular back then. Later, his image was more Biker Buddha. He sported his trademark red beret and had a long beard. In person, Burns was friendly and soft-spoken, carrying himself with the grace and inner peace of a karate expert who knew he could kick anyone’s ass if he had to and, therefore, didn’t need to prove anything. There were contradictions, sure. He battled drug addiction before becoming a health enthusiast and a Christian. Casual fans were surprised after Burns started freely expressing his conservative views on Facebook a while back. More recently, he used social media to keep fans posted on his cancer battle. His Facebook page is now filled with tributes from friends and fans. “Yes,” one man writes, “he was a musician first and foremost, but unlike so many others he was also a people’s person, [a] very conservative Christian man … which didn’t seem to hurt his popularity in a very liberal world in which he spent his whole life.”

My favorite memory of Burns: He walked into a bar in Dallas one night in the mid 1990s while I was playing lead guitar with the Brad Hines Band. Burns was battling hepatitis related to his drug use, and he looked awful. But he was friendly. He asked if he could bring his guitar and amp the next night and sit in with us. Hines agreed. The next night, I was nervous. Burns could have easily blown me off the stage. Most guitarists make it their mission to let everyone know they’re the best axe slinger in the vicinity. But Burns and I traded licks all night without him trying to turn it into a game of one-upmanship or a guitar battle. It was a blast.

Memorial details are forthcoming.

In other depressing news, longtime drummer Rockin’ Ron Thompson died this week after battling a series of strokes. His death saddens many locals because Thompson was a super sweet guy with many friends in North Texas. Over the course of his career, he played skins in many bands, including the Bugs Henderson Group, with Tommy Alverson, and in The Sidemen. I blogged about Thompson recently (“Rockin’ Ron Thompson Gets Some Love,” Jan. 28) and described how the family’s online funding campaign to raise $3,000 instead netted more than $11,000. A recent benefit concert at Keys Lounge also raised money to help pay Thompson’s medical bills. Memorial details will be announced soon. Jeff Prince

 

Contact HearSay at hearsay@fwweekly.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. It Was Very Sad day to Hear of Rusty Burns Passing , We have Known Him over 35yrs.
    The Amazement of Watching RB Play.. You could Be Across Cotton Bowl and Know When
    Rusty was whaling on His Beloved White Stratocaster Up on Stage ,,Oh Some of the Stories He Lived and told,,,Special Memories now,.,But this is One of My Fave Stories of RB, In 2009-2010 , When My Son was Dying health Issuses,, RB Would Call me &Pray with me for Dusty. On/Off almost a year,Then when Dustin passed late 2010. Rusty Was there.In Stepped Up & Did his Memorial Service, and When He was Done, Rusty had Line of Dustin’s Younger Friends (18-32 yr olds) Lined to Talk to him they wanted to be saved through him ) .. This is A Small Impact of How RB Touched the Lives Of Those In His Christian Ways,.He is Loved Then ..Now , Forever More , We Miss you RB ..Randy Tanner Charlene Sheasley Tyler ,,, Randy & Chiquita Fort Worth Texas ,.

  2. Today I was very saddened to hear that very good man, whom I am lucky enough to call my friend, has passed away…God Bless you, Rusty Burns, see you again in Heaven.
    Much love, Elizabeth

  3. What a bummer you wrote this article on my birthday, Jeff. In the town of Euless, Rusty and I grew older but we never grew up. Rusty’s death hit me like a sledgehammer just weeks after losing my mother.

    Keep the frets burning with that band in the sky, Rusty. I’ll join you soon enough.

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