Some voices are born and not made, and the voice of former Chattanoogan Brian “Husky” Burnette is one such untameable beast. Coming off a bit like Howlin’ Wolf, if the Wolf had been a drunken white man with a serious Tide pod jones, Burnette has the kind of manically unhinged vocal instrument that no serious teacher would ever encourage in one of his students, lest he be run out of the business on the wrong end of a very sharp stick. And thank the gods for all of that, because Burnette’s voice is the perfect implement for his particular brand of atavistic stomp, a deviant hybrid of hill-country blues, garage-y punk and heavy, swampy rock ‘n’ roll.
“Before I started my own band, I had written songs just a little, but I had never sung before,” says Burnette. “And I still don’t call myself a singer. But there was no one else around to do it, and there were plenty of other bands with not-so-great vocalists. So I figured that if they can do it, I can do it.”
Burnette began his musical life as a guitar player, and he’s blessed with an appealingly distinctive six-string voice, rooted in a rhythmically facile approach that sees him integrate standard comping with bottleneck slide. Thus his earliest gigs were as a sideman, like his stint with regional country music artist Roger Alan Wade in the early 2000s.
But even as he earned a living off trad country, Burnette was cultivating his longtime love affair with the blues. He says his initial exposure to the idiom came through his uncles, who had introduced him early on to blues-based classic rock, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the like. Over the years, he worked his way backwards, first discovering transitional electric blues artists like the aforementioned Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and then digging into the delta and hill country blues — the latter being a North Mississippi offshoot characterized by simple riffs and powerful, relentless grooves — that heavily inform his playing and songwriting today.
But while that hill country rhythmic underpinning has remained a constant in each of his LP releases, Burnette has increasingly embraced his rock instincts, upping the tempo on his trademark barnstorming grooves, and adding ever thicker layers of crunch to his already-pungent six-string tone.
Burnette says he knew he could no longer ignore his emergent rock instincts when he collaborated recently with Pittsburgh outfit Six Speed Kill — who he describes as being “a band on the Motorhead side of things” — on a split 12-inch release. “One song I had was just straight-up hard rock,” he says. “It was my chance to bring out all these rock riffs that had been bouncing around in my head. It was a lot heavier than anything I’d done before.
“My music has definitely gotten more ‘rock’ over time. I’ve always been a fan of any kind of hard rock, or raw rock music. I need that stuff. I mean, I love the blues; I love hill country blues. But after playing in that vein for a while, I guess it was just time for more rock ‘n’ roll in my life.”
Husky Burnette will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Thursday, March 22 at 7:20 p.m. at Preservation Pub.