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.
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
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