INTERVIEW: TERRY BURNS FINDING HIS PLACE IN MUSIC
2017 / By Kurt J. Kolka
DETROIT – Lauren Duski held Northern Michigan spellbound as she participated on the TV program, The Voice, this spring. Becoming a country singer was a dream she had held onto since her childhood. Many people have had dreams of having a professional music career. Most become dust as life overtakes them. Still others find that not all music careers are about sudden fame, touring the country and making millions. Sometimes people do what they love on the side, just because they love it.
One Grayling High graduate from the Class of 1979, Terry Burns, has continued his pursuit of that dream over the decades, despite the many road blocks he has found in his way.
While he may not be making his entire living off of music performances, his hobby of participating in music and theater as a teen has since developed into a lifelong enjoyment of music and performing.
Burns sat down and spoke with Editor Kurt J. Kolka about his journey to finding his place in the music world and how sometimes what you love is what you do at the end of the day.
Kolka: How did you come to enjoy playing music?
Burns: I'd enjoyed music from a very young age. The first songs I recall hearing were "I Want To Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles and Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe". When I was 6 we lived in Harbor Springs, where I was born, and there was a band in a house across the street. I used to listen to them rehearse from outside. The idea that someone could do that just fascinated me. They got kicked out because a number of neighbors complained about the noise.
My sister and I watched them pack up all their stuff. Their clothes were so cool. Very mod and psychedelic. They chased us around the yard threatening to eat us. Months later we were watching American Bandstand on TV and there they were -- The Left Banke playing "Walk Away Renee." It seemed real and possible, and I loved the way that music made me feel. I wanted to be a part of it. I was tremendously shy, and music helped me feel more confident and gave me a voice.
Kolka: When was it your family moved to Grayling?
Burns: The early '70s. My father had died of cancer and my mother's parents lived in Maple Forest, so we moved there to try and establish a new life.
Kolka: What did you enjoy most about living in Crawford County?
Burns: I loved the time in Maple Forest. I really appreciate the rural life more and more. Hartwick Pines is always good for an annual return or two, and of course the AuSable and Manistee rivers are fantastic.
I spent a lot of my time in Joseph Stripe Auditorium. I did a lot of theatre and summer theatre on that stage, as well as it being the first stage I ever performed on with a band. There was an ice cream and record store called the Nickelodeon where I bought a lot of my early music collection, along with the “Big” Ben Franklin.
I worked out at Hanson Hills in the ski shop for a couple of years in high school. That was always a great place to hang with friends.
Kolka: Who were the people who affected your life while you lived in Grayling and how did they do that?
Burns: My grandmother was head nurse at Mercy Hospital for a number of years. Her love of the community affected me quite a bit. Then there were several of the teachers at the high school who I admired a lot and am fortunate to still have in my life. They would be Robert Woodland, Michael Delp, and of course, Howard Taylor. They all helped me develop the initial talents that I would use to perform, write, and create music.
Kolka: Has creating a band been a dream of yours for a long time?
Burns: Yes, but I was 14 before I finally got in one. I started out on bass. I can't say I could actually play, but I started out on bass. I dropped bass when I found out I could sing. Less equipment to carry around and no need to learn chords...
Kolka: How did the Corktown Popes get formed?
Burns: I had moved to the Detroit are in the early 80's and joined a cowpunk band which did really well on the local circuit. Three years later that was over. I had begun learning guitar and started to write songs, none of which were very good, but we did get a little airplay on Detroit radio and some local media attention. A couple years later I joined an acoustic quartet, I guess we were about 25 years ahead of the Americana thing that's going on now.
From there it was on to an alt band, in the mid '90s. I wrote all the music for that band and we played only our originals. We did shows with the Verve
Pipe and Blue Rodeo and were talking with Polydor Records about a recording contract. We weren't able to come to terms though and I became very disillusioned with the whole process.
A couple members left the band and after auditioning a lot of people to replace them, I'd decided I was done. I stopped hitting the clubs and was turning down a lot of offers to play with other people. I was just done.
I would write songs or work on writing songs all the time. I enjoyed the process and the learning experience very much, but had no desire to play live again. Not for 15 years.
I'd had the idea of an Irish rock band. It seemed like the right vehicle to allow me to do what I loved about music. It turns out it was.
Kolka: Describe the C-Pope’s music repertoire and gigs.
Burns: We play mostly originals now. We are a showcase band, which means we tend to play venues that showcase original acts. We play typically only one set. Sometimes two. A lot of large festivals, Irish festivals, Arts, Beats and Eats (metro Detroit ), and we've played the Traverse City Film Festival as well. We have two original CDs available and we also had a live CD out at one point in time. People can see our videos on YouTube and listen to us on Pandora or Spotify as well. We describe our sound as MoCelt (a play on MoTown) or Caledonian Soul, which is basically a longing for better days that never really were.
Kolka: At this time, are you able to make a living off your band or are working elsewhere to pay bills?
Burns: Unfortunately, the music industry is not like it was 20 years ago. There is very little money to be made if you are not a high profile national act. To make a living now you have to tour constantly or license your music out to television, film, or commercials. People don't realize how time consuming and expensive recording is, and sadly feel little shame in downloading music for free. It's hurt creators tremendously.
I'm a vocalist. I'm a personality. It's more difficult for me to play five to seven nights a week because your throat isn't built to do that.
Musicians stand a better chance at being able to make a living in the industry than vocalists. They can adapt their sound more readily and their fingers stand up better to repeated use than a larynx.
(Guess I should've hung on to that bass....)
Kolka: What plans do you have for the future?
Burns: Along with more work with the Corktown Popes, I'm currently working on a solo project. It's a holiday album that I'm hoping to release in November. It'll be a number of originals and some fresh takes on some standards. I'm fortunate to have a lot of great musicians that will be adding their talents to the songs- Chuck Bartells of Sturgill Simpson (they just won a Grammy for country album of the year), a couple guys from Kid Rock's band, Johnny Evans (saxophone) and Jimmie Bones (keyboards), Jim Scholten from the Sawyer Brown Band, and the Popes will be lending their talents here and there as well. I'm very excited about it !
Kolka: Looking back now, what are your favorite memories of living in Grayling?
Burns: The friends I had. When it comes down to it, it's the people in your life that matter more than anything, and I made lifelong friends in Grayling.
I'm very happy that Grayling is working so hard to make the huge improvements that it has in the past few years. I can't wait to see them rise in a manner that provides opportunities for its citizens and let's the city shine as it should!