For those well versed on the local music scene, Wink Burcham is a familiar name and face. He's been a staple of the local club scene for years, playing at least four nights a week at various spots around Tulsa and become a favorite for many.
He has become quite an astute and prolific songwriter during that time as well, but even though he's got a solid following and a catalogue of songs, he's never released a CD of his own material. Until now, that is.
It's not that he hasn't tried. According to Burcham, he's got studio recordings that sit and collect dust at home -- some of them eight years old or more. He's just never been happy with what he captured.
Burcham is getting close, however. Last year, he cut basic tracks for 12 songs at The Church and flew to Philadelphia, where his engineer had moved back to, to track another four or five songs. With those tracks still awaiting a few finishing touches, however, Burcham decided to go ahead and make his official debut with Live at the Colony, recorded in a single Monday night nearly a year ago with a cast friends and regulars at his weekly gig on South Harvard.
Although not particularly polished, the tracks are befitting both the artist and locale: the mood is relaxed and shines a light on Burcham in his comfort zone -- behind a guitar and microphone and finding a groove with friends. The songs are a little bluesy, a little jazzy and ring of classic rock nuance -- basically, all of the qualities that The Colony and the bands associated with "The New Tulsa" sound have become known for.
When asked, even Burcham has a hard time describing his sound.
"In a general sense, it's all folk and all jazz and all blues: it's for folks with the blues and jazzy enough to get them to move," he said.
Ultimately, however, when referring back to the classic Tulsa sound, Burcham referenced one of the masters. "J.J. Cale used to say it's just a bunch of white boys in Tulsa trying to play the blues and that's how it came out," he said. "Cale's music was really just rock 'n' roll at its core, but he put his own stamp on it."
When taking the live disc for a quick spin, it seems Burcham is doing something similar by following his own muse. "Pay Your Dues to Sing the Blues" is more jazz than blues, although "Listerine Woman" and "The Robinsons" definitely fall in a more traditional blues vein. Elsewhere, Burcham and his band get funky on "Bon' Lay You Down" and "Tryin' to Get Paid." Perhaps the most telling, however, are "I Don't Write Songs About You," which ultimately sounds like a song Clapton would have recorded in the mid to late '70s, and "Shadows," which is simply classic, folk based songwriting.
"I write a lot of acoustic music and there's some that I refuse to play with a band because it just doesn't fit the vibe," he said. "I think it's better for just me a harmonica and maybe a banjo player."
That's telling of Burcham's vision for his music. Although he seems incredibly laid back, he knows exactly how he wants his songs to be played and represented.
He even said that for the CD release, he plans on stripping "Listerine Woman" down to just himself on guitar and harmonica and perhaps a few key guitar lines from Cody Clinton.
With so many songs already in process and at least partially recorded in the studio, I had to ask why Burcham chose to debut with a live disc.
"Basically, I wanted to get something out as quick as possible, but not sound like shit," he laughed. "We had been doing some live Pilgrim recordings at The Colony on Sunday nights and Eric (Arndt, bassist) talked to Chad (Copelin) and asked if he just wanted to leave the equipment set up overnight and record our set the next night. He said 'Yeah, sure' so that's exactly what we did."
That impromptu vibe is exactly what gives the disc it's relaxed, yet comfortable energy and vibe.
Looking forward, Burcham is ripe with ideas.
"I think it would be cool if we could get someone to record the CD release. Maybe call it 'A Night at The Colony at Fassler Hall' or something," he laughed. "I've already got another 18 or 19 original songs worked up," he continued. "We could do another live album with all new songs." When pushed, however, he ultimately relented that the next step is getting his studio album out.
"I've learned that you just can't rush it in the studio," he said when discussing how long the process has taken. "You've got to just let it happen. I've just figured that out over the last two years and I still don't have it figured out.
"The problem with the studio is, the longer you sit on it, the more unhappy you become with it," he explained. "There's always something else you want to change or make better, but you need to finally just put your stamp on it and get it out there."
Hopefully, Burcham will put his stamp on the studio recordings and get them out near the end of the summer. There are still a few things he wants to touch up and finish, though, like adding horns to tracks like "Tryin' to Get Paid" and "Feelin' Fine." Before that happens, however, the new live disc gets an official release party at Fassler Hall this Friday night at 10pm.
Armed with a full band, Burcham will be leading the proceedings with Eric Arndt on bass, Cody Clinton and Jeff Coleman on guitars, Paddy Ryan on drums, Chris Kyle on Rhodes organ, Dave Marlow on harmonica and a small horn section headed up by Mike Staub. In other words: all the usual suspects and then some.
Burcham says the group has worked up 24 or 25 songs and four or five covers for full, ongoing night of music which will probably include a short acoustic set in the middle. "We've actually worked in a couple of rehearsals," he shared. "It's not too polished, but we kind of know what each person will be thinking. We try to do the improve thing, but not be thought of as a jam band by any means."
Whether you're a regular at one of Burcham's standing weekly gigs or just now becoming familiar with his songwriting and playing, this Saturday night's show at Fassler Hall is the perfect gig to catch him at. With a full night on Fassler's stage and a new CD to celebrate, Burcham and his band should be at their prime and ready to take him to the next stage of his career.
When discussing that next stage, Burcham admitted to being ready to start touring and playing out of town more frequently, but he also knows that he want to let it grow organically.
"I'd rather be infamous than famous," he winked knowingly. I'd like to be more like Townes Van Zandt or Willis Alan Ramsey -- one of those guys that only a handful of people really know how good they are, but the audience grows because they're so good."
If Burcham can manage to capture the magic of his love performances in the studio, that shouldn't be much of an issue. After all, his songs flow so naturally, it's like he's always playing in the pocket and enjoying his comfort zone. Once everyone else settles in there with him, the rest will take care of itself. Just make sure to settle in with him this Saturday night at Fassler Hall.
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