Todd Burge — W.Va.’s Musical Renaissance Man
Parkersburg’s Todd Burge is a singer/songwriter who has really made a name for himself. He’s got his fingers in many aspects of the music business pie, too: he hosts a radio program and produces other musicians. Check out www.toddburge.com
Graffiti: What are your latest projects?
Burge: I’m mostly working on promoting this CD project that was produced by 2006 Grammy winner, Tim O’Brien. (Also featured are) Dennis Crouch, who also played on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ CD; Dirk Powell, who has worked with many greats from Loretta Lynn to Sting; Kenny Malone, who has played with Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Johnny Cash. The CD was engineered by David Ferguson, who worked on Johnny Cash’s last few CDs and recorded at John Prine’s studio — The Butcher Shoppe — in Nashville.
I’ll be touring a bunch up and down the East Coast this year and next playing clubs, festivals, colleges and some theatres. The CD mostly helps me get some really great radio play on college and PRI/NPR stations. I’m also on a compilation CD called, “Always Lift Him Up — A Tribute to Blind Alfred Reed” (BAR). BAR was a songwriter who recorded in the 1920s and was from Princeton, W.Va.
The WV Music Hall of Fame invited me to record one of BAR’s songs for the compilation. The song is called, “Telephone Girl.” The CD was produced by Don Dixon, who has also worked with Mary Chapin Carpenter and some band called R.E.M. There is a tour in the works for this Fall.
I’m also the host for a radio show/podcast for songwriters called, “Songwriter Night with Todd Burge.” It can be heard on Z106 in Parkersburg/Marietta the first Sunday of each month at 7 p.m. You can hear the podcast right now right here at www.songwriternight.com.
We have a songwriters’ festival planned for June in Marietta, Ohio. There will be workshops and a contest for songwriters. It is free.
Oh, I just produced a CD for a great songwriter from Columbus, Ohio: RJ Cowdery. She grew up in Belpre, Ohio.
Graffiti: OK, it’s a huge jump from punk to bluegrass. How’d you get hooked on so many styles of music?
Burge: I’ve always loved all genres. I grew up taking piano lessons and hating that. I was about seven years old. Some teachers, although their intentions are kind, want to put you in a tiny box. I used to want to take the piano tunes and change them. The teacher thought I lacked discipline and told my mom that my brother had the musical talent in the family. I look back and see that behavior as my first attempt at songwriting.
Anyway, the tiny boxes would frustrate me everywhere. In choir, cover bands, well, life in general I suppose. Later I went to WVU and they have a fantastic student radio station there, U-92. The music back then was really free form. You might hear Elvis one minute and the Butthole Surfers the next. The hybrid music would excite me the most. While going to WVU, I played in punk bands. This reminds me of what Louis Armstrong said during an interview when asked what kind of music he liked to listen to. Armstrong said, “good music.”
Graffiti: You also have a wide range of venues you’ve played – from chicken-wire dives to the Kennedy Center. Where do they still have chicken wire and how did you get to play at the Kennedy Center?
Burge: I’m happy to say, I don’t know where the chicken wire is now. I’ve also played places where I wished they had some chicken wire. I’ve seen Bud bottles whiz by my head a couple times in Parkersburg. I’ve had some cigarettes thrown at me by skinheads in Detroit while playing punk rock.
I was first asked to play the Kennedy Center about five years ago when I was touring some with a group called the Voices of West Virginia: John Lilly, Keith and Joan Pitzer, Kate Long and me. The Kennedy Center liked the group and booked us. I’ve since played there a couple of times by myself. Looks like I might be there again in October.
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