Burk Price: Distant Visions (Maya)
I first heard Burk Price’s “Synthezoid Heartbreak” over the phone from Ohio when I lived in London but it was the B-side “Distant Vision” that flipped my neurons when I received it in the mail. For me, it was a downbeat psychedelic masterpiece: the perfect down-tempo meter, heavy skins work, an ambitious arrangement, perfect change-ups and stunning, warbled guitar work; five minutes of sweet morbid bliss. It got me high.
I’d never seen it before and I sought more but it seems to be his only release. From then on, I’d pick it up whenever it came up on ebay (no chance of finding this kind of record in wilds of London, or Melbourne), and passing it on to mates at the cheap price I got it for, or trading it on to those interested. Fast forward two years and I scored another ebayed copy. For some reason I can’t remember, I passed a comment along to the seller about the record, who replied that he was actually the producer of said record, and thanks for the compliment. I had to ask Bob for the history of this record and to ask whatever happened Burk Price. And the story Bob relayed to me deserves to me remembered. Thanks for your story Bob, and thanks for producing on of my favourite records. Wherever you are Burk Price, I salute you.
Maya was Burke’s first band in 1973. It featured the former bassist of Spike (mega shred guitarist David Chastain’s first band in the 1970’s). Also featured a jazz drummer and a vocalist (who’s names escape me right now). Burke and I were best of friends. I handled all of the mgmt, book-keeping, and production/engineering tasks so that he could concentrate on music. We were both in our early twenties at the time. The only time a guitar left his hands was for his job and sleep. Otherwise he was never without it.
He listened intently to every new Lp I would purchase. His favorites were Wishbone Ash “Argus” and Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Lps. He loved experimental guitarists like Hendrix, Fripp, Blackmore and John McLaughlin. He could play a song after hearing it only a couple of times.Â His love of Hendrix taught him how to do all the effect laden material, but, he also emulated how subtle Hendrix could be as in “Little Wing”. Burke had extraordinary fingers like Hendrix and Robert Johnson.Â Almost like spider legs.Â He could barre chords with his thumb just like you see Hendrix doing at Woodstock.
About this time is when Burke developed his “train set” as we called it.Â He mounted every known device to change a guitars sound onto a long wood plank.Â He ran that into an original tape loop echoplex and fed them into a Sunn head with Marshall cabinets.Â He kept that rig for the entire time I knew him.Â He was one of the first to buy a Les Paul Custom guitar (so that he could plug directly into the board at any recording studio). He had one of the original hand-made Floyd Rose pieces to keep his guitar in tune so he could slam on the “whammy bar” and produce dive bomb effects by bending the neck at the same time. He was always experimenting with new effects and techniques. He read Guitar Player magazine religiously to learn of any new property to add to his growing arsenal of effect pedals.
Maya’s first record ( a single) was recorded at Jewel Studios in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Many National acts recorded there in the 1960’s – 70’s. Blues legend Lonnie “Memphis” Mack was a staple at the studio. This first single lead the way to eliminating almost all “cover” songs from their sets. Original material was plentiful and quite exceptional. Totally original in sound and style. Burke plugged his guitar directly into the board at Jewel studio and produced feedback by holding the guitar up to an open pair of headphones.
He always recorded and played at maximum volume. We even experimented with microphone placement to capture the sound of live drums. We viewed the studio the same way the Beatles did from Revolver on… A playground to use and experiment with. We would rehearse endings and timing. We’d work on a song in different tempos until we found the one that sounded best to us. We’d work on cold and faded endings. Trying to figure out what worked best. We didn’t want to waste money and time in the studio with things we could manage prior to the recording.
Just after the single was released I was hired to be a crew member for a touring band called Phaedra that were based in Atlanta, Ga. This was about 1973 – 1976. Phaedra was the only band I would work for outside of Maya. They were possibly the best “bar” band I had ever heard. The decision to work for them was the easiest decision I had ever made. I could listen to them every night and never find myself drifting.Â I could write a whole book about our experiences, but, Cameron Crowe beat me to it with “Almost Famous”. That was us in every way, shape and form. That movie was like looking at a scrapbook of my life with Phaedra.
Phaedra was at work on their first Lp at the Bill Lowery studios in Atlanta when Tim (the original) singer decided to leave. He was replaced by Rex Smith (of Solid Gold, Pirates of Penzanze and commercials fame). A great singer, but, far too much of a pretty boy for me to handle. I couldn’t see any future with Rex, as a singer, and decided to move back to Cincinnati.
Having returned to Cincinnati in 1976 Burke and I reconnected and started working on Desire as our next project. Desire was to be an all original band in the Queen/Deep Purple vein. This is when Burke first came to the attention of Mike Varney at Guitar Player magazine. Mike was going to do a monthly feature article of unknown talents. He picked Burke and David Chastain (coincidentally both from Cincinnati) for his first features.
As a band we wrote and rehearsed with numerous personnel changes until 1981 when we got the perfect band together (or so we thought). We recorded the first album in 1982 entitled Cry At The Sky. It was almost complete when we realized that the singer was not cutting it vocally. We replaced him with our “dream” singer. The new singer was as close to Ian Gillan as we could find. He even looked like him (hair, alcohol and all) and had a son named Gillan. We re-recorded the vocal tracks with Fred Daniels and completed production/mix down. We released the album in early 1983 with the new title “Screamer on the Rocks” due to the fact that the original singer had too much involvement with the title cut of the original mix.
After playing to about 5000 people in about 3 sold out shows in Cincinnati the band broke up. Burke was getting hooked on serious drugs. Cocaine was the drug of choice, but, LSD and other drugs were taken liberally. At the time, no one knew the totally addictive quality of cocaine. His new “friends” were hanging out to get in on the free drug train that followed Burke wherever he went. Ample drugs meant ample “friends”. Burke was getting hooked on a combination of cocaine and bottle after bottle of peppermint schnapps…a lethal combination. His mood swings were tearing all of his old friends apart. We never knew which way his wind was blowing.
He half heartedly tried about 3 suicide attempts in the mid to late 1980’s. I got sick of constantly bailing him out of local hospitals and watching him “total” his van in a cheap attempt to get attention (all of this over a bartender girlfriend who preyed on his money and cocaine). She was always strung out and kept Burke that way so she wouldn’t be alone. Her friends became his friends and everyone else was being shut out.
About 1987 Burke’s mother died and left him about $28.000. He moved to San Francisco to be closer to the new heavy metal music business. By this time cocaine was consuming his life. He was eventually homeless (having spent his entire inheritance in 6 months or less). He even sold off his guitars to get more cocaine when that money ran out. Larry, the drummer for Desire, moved out to San Francisco with him, but, later returned to get his life back together.
I think Burke may have tried to contact me about 6 years later (circa 1990)…I got a call and it sounded like him. His voice was kind of crackling and he just said a broken Bobbbbb and then hung up. I’m still not sure it was him, but, it sounded just like him. I haven’t heard from him since.
If you need any more info let me know…that pretty much sums up the Bob/Burke story.
It’s an amazing album and still gets me mail almost 20 years later from all over the globe. We sold more copies in Germany and Italy than we did in the USA. I’ve seen it in mail order catalogs for $200. All I have left is a couple copies of the Lp and the original test pressings of both versions. The master tapes were mistakenly recorded over at the studio we used. So what I have left is all there is.
Best to you..
(Robert Thiessen, producer of the Burk Price Maya single)