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Honky tonker Burleson crosses fingers

By Joel Bernstein, December 1999

Doug Sahm is gone now. The man who epitomized Texas music left a legacy of more than 40 years worth of his own recordings. The last project he released during his lifetime was not his own record, but the debut of Ed Burleson, "My Perfect World.".

Sahm discovered Burleson, guided this project to fruition and saw it released on his own Tornado label. His last show was the album's release party.

Burleson doesn't cover the full spectrum of Texas music like Sahm did. He just covers the hard-core Texas dancehall country music known as honky tonk. But he sure does cover it well. He's a sixth-generation Texan and a former professional rodeo rider (he attended college on a rodeo scholarship.)

When asked how many songs he writes, Burleson replies, "Well, my wife ran off this year, so I've had more time to write. I've written twice as many as usual." That's practically a country song in itself.

The 30-year-old Burleson grew up around music. "Mama was a Baptist, so I sang in the choir every Sunday. Dad was a musician, so there were always people picking and singing around the house."

He never expected music to be his life's passion, however. "It was just something I did on the side. In Dallas, I found a club called Country Music Conservation Hall. That name caught my eye. (Later, as the Three Teardrops, it became his home base.) They had a songwriter's night, and I just went in and did some of my stuff. I've been writing songs in some form or another all my life. Dirty little rhyming things on the school bus, stuff like that. I played a little of everything (instruments), but it wasn't until I was 21 that I sat down and tried to play the guitar correctly."

Four or five years ago, Burleson journeyed to Austin one night to catch a show by fiddler Alvin Crow's band. Burleson was acquainted with Crow, who introduced him to Sahm (who was sitting in as the band's steel player that night.)

"We talked about wrestling. Then we got talking about music. We hit it off. (A few weeks later) I played The Broken Spoke in Austin, and he came to see me. I gave him some of my demos. I had been working on getting an indie deal, but I told him it was dead in the water. He pitched the songs to Warner-Chappell, and they gave me a publishing deal."

Sahm started the Tornado label along with a couple of WEA executives and worked on Burleson's album. "We added songs and wrote songs together."

Although Sahm is listed as executive producer, a title which often denotes no active participation in the project, he was very involved. Clay Blaker, a Texas legend unknown elsewhere except perhaps as a songwriter, produced.

Blaker's friendship with Jim Lauderdale - they've both written for George Strait - resulted in Lauderdale becoming a fan and giving Burleson a couple of songs. Bill Kirchen played some lead guitar (as did Sahm himself) and, of course, Alvin Crow played some fiddle. There are a number of musicians on the album - some of the original demos were used as a base, while other Burleson songs were redone completely.

As successful as Burleson may be in Texas - and the album is getting considerable radio play down there - he still can't make a living in music. "I carry a big band," he says.

"I work construction whenever I can. I usually wake up 4 a.m. Monday and other weekdays I'm working. Then, I get home at 2:30 and hit the phones (doing interviews and promotion). Maybe I get a nap, but then I go play if I'm playing (music) that night. I play with the band Friday and Saturday and whatever other nights I can get anything. I put in at least 40-45 hours a week in construction. I don't get a whole lot of sleep."

Burleson hopes to finally get in some touring next year. "My goal is to make it in music with what I'm doing and not change it. I hope I can make enough money to play full time. Cross my fingers. I think it's coming."