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. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi