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Ed Burleson searches for the cold hard truth

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2004

Back in 1999, Ed Burleson released a great Texas honky tonk album "My Perfect World."

Only, life apparently wasn't so perfect for Burleson because he was getting divorced, he didn't see eye to eye with his label and a key musical influence and Texas legend, Doug Sahm, died.

The result was Burleson hadn't had a disc of new music out since save for a self-released live disc.

But that's all changed thanks to a new record label, which put out "The Cold Hard Truth," another mix of honky tonk with healthy doses of bluegrass thrown in, in late April.

Referring to the long wait for new music, Burleson says in a telephone interview from his Denison, Texas home, "It was for me too."

Burleson released a live disc about 2 1/2 years ago, but he's glad the long haul is over. "I didn't have the money to promote it," he says.

As for dealings with his first label, Tornado, which Sahm had started, "It was frustrating just because the old record label, once (Sahm) was gone, wouldn't tell me anything."

Tornado actually still exists, but Burleson indicates he had difficulties in dealing with the label.

"Contractually, it's all mine again - the album itself," he says of "My Perfect World." "It's a lot better now."

What took so long for new music to surface? "I think basically finding someone who believed in me," says Burleson.

Chris Thomas is the head of his new label, Palo Duro, a Tennessee-based label specializing in quality Texas artists, who aren't all that well known.

"I was happy to meet him. I had other offers, but just after going through the whole Tornado Records thing...It was great when Doug was alive, but I couldn't get any information after he was gone. I had other offers, but I was scared of them."

"One of them said, 'we'll sign you, but you have to dump your other records (keep them off the record store shelves).' I didn't understand that. Kind of weird things. Reading the contracts, people want to sign you up for 13-album deals when you know, heck, I'm not a spring chicken. They're just trying to tie you up."

Burleson, 35, says he wanted the new disc to "show my versatility, and at the same time, keep it traditional (and) just put the songs out that I've been writing."

That diversity is reflected in the "bluegrass edge to the Texas redneck rock feel to the honky tonk 4/4 shuffles," according to Burleson.

First and foremost, though, is a tonker as evident from the leadoff "Honky-Tonk Heart." "That's for the most part what I am," he says of honky tonk music.

But Burleson says he also liked putting the bluegrass music on the album. "I've always loved bluegrass music," he says. "We'd been sitting around playing a bunch of it. We'd been doing stuff in church, doing gospel bluegrass songs. It put me in the mode, and I just started writing things like that."

Burleson gives a tribute to one of his musical heroes, Buck Owens, on "All Bucked Up. "I was just wanting to do a tribute to Buck Owens. That popped into my head. The verses were pretty much the truth - my dad never bought a new vehicle as a kid. I always remember Buck Owens coming out of the garage and playing in the front yard."

Burleson says he liked Owens because of "the chicken picking, and it always had such interesting steel guitar work on it, and the harmonies - Don Rich and Buck Owens - were just unbelievable."

Burleson came up with the idea while driving down the road. "It made me laugh, so I felt like others would. It'll scare a lot of little ladies who don't hear very well."

And that actually happened at a recent gig at a Dallas area club. "An older woman came up to me. She said, 'I like the whole record except for that dirty one'. 'What dirty one?'" Burleson says he asked. Burleson set the woman straight.

Burleson says he received a musical education from his father, who played drums for Tony Joe White before he was born. "He always worked in the day and played at night," Burleson says of his father, who now plays with him.

"Even when I didn't know I was writing, I was always writing. I was always one to make up stupid rhymes. I wrote the funny ones on the school bus. I just didn't really realize until I was older that there was a purpose for it and something I should be acting on."

But first he spent time at Hill County Community College on a rodeo scholarship. "That's Texas, you know," he says. "I'm not sure you can get a rodeo scholarship in Tennessee. I got a full ride, and I did that for two years. The problem is you're gone all the time, and it's hard to keep up with your studies."

He went on the pro riding tour for three years until a knee injury took its toll.

Still involved in music, Burleson hit songwriter nights, which led to a regular gig at the Three Teardrops nightclub in the Dallas area.

He held a regular construction gig while playing at night. Burleson pretty quickly met Texas music mainstay Alvin Crow and Sahm - "what was Texas music at the time - still is to me."

Sahm played steel for Crow at the time with a Three Teardrops gig leading to a relationship with Burleson.

Crow and Burleson first hit it off by talking about a famous pro wrestling family from Denison.

Burleson also slipped Sahm a demo of "My Perfect World." "He called me three days later and said he loved it and said he wanted to get together. A week after that, he was knocking on my front door."

"We were just going to start (recording) - mine and then his - and see who else would pick it up, see who would want to do a real traditional Texas label that was playing real honky tonk music. There were not that many out there any more."

The result was Tornado Records, started by Sahm and a Warner Records executive.

Sahm showed at Burleson's CD release party. Two weeks later, he was dead. "I knew things were about to get turned upside down. All of a sudden, I went from being in the know to being in the black."

Burleson's fortunes may have changed again with "The Cold Hard Truth."