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Blues vocalist and harmonicaplayer Eddie Burks aka Edward E.

Burks aka Jew town

Burks aka Jew town Eddie aka J.T. Burks was a regular performer at Chicago's old
Maxwell Street Market.

He was featured in an interview in the documentary about Maxwell Street "Cheat Your

He was born September 17, 1931 on Rising Sun Plantation, near Sidon and
Greenwood, Leflore County Mississippi USA.
He died in a car crash January 27, 2005 near Miller, Lake County, Indiana USA
Eddie Jewtown Burks Biography. Born 17 September 1931, Greenwood, Mississippi,
USA. There was a time when Chicago's Maxwell Street area was referred to by its
citizens as Jewtown, and "Jewtown' Burks was one of the weekend market's most
powerful performers. Finance and political correctness have put paid to both names, but
Burks remains an eminently listenable and resourceful musician.
He obtained his first harmonica at the age of three and received new ones as Christmas
gifts in the subsequent years. Despite his family's strong religious tradition, he listened
to Rice Miller's KFFA broadcasts for inspiration. He arrived in Chicago on 27 December
1946 and shortly afterwards gained employment in a steel mill. Although his religious
activities kept him from performing blues, he frequented the West Side clubs. When his
health forced him to quit the steel mill and his first marriage failed, he devoted himself to
music, sitting in with Magic Sam, Freddie King and Howlin" Wolf and taking a residency
at the Majestic Lounge.
His first single, "Lowdown Dog", was issued in 1977 and credited to Jewtown Burks,
followed by "Operator" and "Evelina" on the Cher-Kee label. During the 70s and 80s he
worked with Jimmy Dawkins and Eddie Shaw, mostly as a driver. In 1988, he married
Maureen Walker, who assisted him in setting up Rising Son (later changed to Rising
Son Blues), and in 1991 he released Vampire Woman. A year later, an album of
Chicago blues standards, This Old Road, was recorded live in Rochester, New York. An
impressive live performer, Burks has managed to avoid involvement with the corporate
blues fraternity.
Eddie Burks @ The Blues Saloon, March 28, 1998. By Ray M. Stiles.
There is a "blues pipeline" that runs
between the gritty south side of
Chicago right to the front door of The
Blues Saloon in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This pipeline, paved with concrete
and asphalt, has been the major artery
that has brought Chicago blues to The
Blues Saloon for the past two decades.
This pipeline is littered with broken
dreams, hardship, and the sweat and
tears of countless blues players who
have made the trip.
Photo 1998 by Tom Asp.

But it also has brought blues men and women who have an optimistic spirit. A spirit that
has been tempered by life's hardships but that is still driving them on to one more
performance. Eddie Burks is one of these travelers with that optimistic spirit. Perhaps
less know than some of his contemporaries but still the "real deal". This was traditional
Chicago blues harmonica blown by one of the veterans of the Chicago scene. He
opened the 9:30 PM show with a "good afternoon ladies and gentlemen," that brought a
few chuckles from the audience and set the tone for a fun evening of down home and
back alley Chicago blues. He also had his bags and suit case right up there on stage -
packed and ready to hit the road again after another one night stand.
Eddie likes to move around a lot and was out in the audience just about every other
song playing to the crowd. Sometimes he would even be singing without a microphone
just like when he was growing up in rural Mississippi singing out in the fields. He pulled
out his chromatic harp later in the show, playing with a rich, full sound. Eddie was
backed by guitar and a solid rhythm section that really kept this 12 bar blues groove
going all night long. He played a very nice harp solo on the introduction of the Jimmy
Reed song "Big Boss Man," and started the second set blowing his harp while sitting out
in the audience (he was actually sitting on Tom Asp's jacket at the time).
He said his first influence on the harmonica was Sonny Boy Williamson #1. "His name
was called John Lee, I used to listen to him play on a radio program out of Helena,
Arkansas called King Biscuit. That was a long, many years back. I was in Mississippi, I
was little boy then. He kind of influenced me. But I always wanted to blow my own style,
it's very hard to create a style of music."
Eddie Burks was born in Greenwood
Mississippi, September 17, 1931 on a
plantation called Rising Sun. He was
the youngest of 13 children in a poor
sharecropping family. When asked how
long he has been playing the
harmonica Burks said "I have been
playing the harmonica all my life. Ever
since I can remember, 'cause my dad
used to buy me a harmonica every year
for Christmas."
I jokingly asked if he got them in a
different key each year and he said
"No, he bought me the same
harmonica EVERY year. He bought me
a C harmonica. That's why I very
seldom play in that key, because it was
the only key I played in up until I got to
be a great big boy and I was able to
buy them myself."
Burks moved to Chicago in 1946 and
tried to hang out where the musicians
were playing the harmonica but was
too young most of the time.
Photo 1998 by Tom Asp.

"I was so little they wouldn't let me in the places. I went to a place where John Lee
(Williamson) was playing on 31st and Indiana. This cat let me sit down and I bought a
half pint of Sunny Brook and you pay 50 cents for a set up. By the time I got ready to
take a drink out of it, this guy picks me up and throws me out of the joint. I was only
about 16 and a half, three months before I be 17. That was in '47 and that's what
happened there. Another time I went over to (see) Muddy Waters. Him and Little Walter,
they was playin' over on Chicago Ave. at a place. Jimmy Rogers was with him at that
time. I got a chance to sit in with Muddy then when I was just a little boy. HE didn't let
them throw me out."
Eddie learned to sing gospel during the
1950's. He belonged to the same
church as Sam Cooke and Mahalia
Jackson, The Greater Harvest Baptist
Church on South State Street. It was
under the tutelage of Robert Anderson
& Willie Webb (the same men who
tutored Sam Cooke) that he learned
how to really sing and develop his
voice. He learned how "to get on the
bandstand for three shows, three hours
a night.
They trained you how to go all night in
high gear, not all night in low gear."
Eddie worked in the steel mills while he
raised his family and spent many years
as a sideman for Jimmy Dawkins and
Eddie Shaw. He raised his family and
eventually quit the steel mill to pursue
music full time.
Photo 1998 by Tom Asp.

In 1990, he established his own band and recorded the first of 3 self produced CDs. The
"Vampire Woman" hit the Living Blues charts at #15 in 1991. "This Old Road" (1992)
stayed on the charts for several months, peaking at #2. And "Comin' Home" (1994)
reached #11 on the Living Blues charts. I asked him about Jimmie Lee Robinson, a
Chicago guitar and bass player who played with Elmore James and Little Walter in the
1950's (see review in July 1997 TCBN).
Eddie said "Jimmie Lee is a smart guitar player. Don't let nobody tell you he don't know
HOW to play with a harp blower. He played with Little Walter when he was nothin' but a
kid. I remember when Little Walter was teaching him. Little Walter used to hang out at
the park down on Roosevelt Road & Sacramento. That was his park that he hung out at
all day long, and he was teachin' his musicians how to play behind a harp blower. They
didn't have bass then, like they do now. Musicians didn't have the money they got now.
So they used to take a guitar and tune it down.
They used to tune a guitar a different way to play with a harp blower not like what they
do now. So that's why a harp blower now days (has) a little trouble because the guitar
player doesn't know how to really play with him." An interesting event occurred a few
years ago when the National Geographic Explorer series was filming a show called
Blues Highway. The whole focus of the movie changed after they were doing a segment
on Eddie in his home.
It was during the filming of this segment that for the first time Eddie talked about his
brother who was killed by the Klan in 1937 when Eddie was just a little boy. He talked
about how his mother and sisters had to literally wipe the pieces of his brother off the
walls of his house after the brutal attack. In that instant their nice little film about the
blues turned into something else.
Eddie became the featured artist and the film was later nominated for an academy
award in 1995. After the show Eddie Burks was back on his own "blues highway"
heading to another show in another town, just trying to keep that spirit alive

By Jason Ankeny

Chicago bluesman Eddie Burks was born September 17, 1931, on a plantation outside
Greenwood, MS -- the 14th and youngest child of sharecroppers, his childhood was
marked by tragedy, most notably his brother's lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
Burks discovered the music of Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson as a
prepubescent, and began playing harmonica even before he relocated to the Windy City
in 1946; there he worked at a steel mill while singing gospel as a member of the Greater
Harvest Baptist Choir, famed for also launching the careers of Mahalia Jackson and
Sam Cooke.
Despite the pull of the spiritual life, Burks could not leave the blues behind, playing so
often at the old Maxwell Street Market that locals dubbed him "Jewtown Eddie" -- still he
became an Apostolic minister, with his own storefront church on Chicago's West Side.
After much of the area was destroyed by riots in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
1968 assassination, Burks abandoned the church and his steel mill job to play the blues
full-time, passing the cup along Maxwell Street in addition to backing bandleaders Eddie
Shaw and Jimmy Dawkins -- on occasion, he even sat in with immortals Muddy Waters
and Howlin' Wolf.
Despite his fame among local bluesmen, Burks remained virtually unknown outside of
the Chicago city limits until 1990, when he and then-wife Maureen Walker founded
Rising Son Records to release his debut LP, Vampire Woman. This Old Road followed
in 1992, but he earned his biggest mainstream exposure appearing in the Academy
Award-nominated 1994 documentary Blues Highway. Burks remained a staple of the
Chicago blues circuit until his death in an auto accident outside Miller, IN, on January
27, 2005.
Circulating on the net about Eddie Burks:
"I had the pleasure to catch Eddie's band live at Fanny's Starlight Lounge in Windsor,
Ontario back in the early '90s.
There was trouble that night with a deranged patron (a BIG guy) who'd just got out of
prison, harassing the sax player. Eddie hit him in the head so hard that he knocked the
jerk into next week. The cops came and hauled the a**hole back off to jail and the show
went on. What a night!"
Asked Shedrick Davis for confirmation: "Yes! He was a Hockey Playing Big Guy, That
Sat in a Regular Size Chair and Look 👀Like He was in Child’s Chair! He just Gotta out
of Jail, He Enjoyed Eddie and the Band, So much! He Applauded Noisily and Kept trying
to Talk to Eddie Privately in Between Sets. Eddie told Me” That Big Guy just got Out of
Jail and Keeps wanting to Whisper his Intentions to have Sex! /I personally,think he was
Just So Happy 😀 to be Out of Jail! and was So Large a Man! Eddie assumed he wanted
Sex, He Followed Eddie Around after Every Set and When He got Too Close! Eddie hit
him across the Nose with a Folded Pocket Knife! That Ended the Night After the
Canadian Police 👮♀️ arrived...."
Photo by Don Buroker