Last week I wrote about Frank Chase who has been playing Killington since 1978. I thought that was the longest tenure of my article subjects, but this week I got to speak with Guy Burlage, who can top that since he came here in 1976, although I first met him in 2003.
Burlage and some family and friends from Virginia Beach, Va. made up the Seabird Band and were brought up here by the late, great Killington pioneer Jack Giguere. Those friends included his brother Denis Burlage, Victor Paul, Mike McCloud and Skip Watts. Giguere hired them to play at the then-brand-new happy hour room of the Pickle Barrel Nightclub. They were the first band to ever play there. That room is now known as the Crow’s Nest. McCloud only stayed for one season as Vermont did not suit him. He’s now a 30-year veteran of the Key West music scene and one of the most sought-after solo artists there. Paul passed away this past June. I’ve known Watts since the late 90s because he ran the popular Killington nightclub, the Nightspot, which was located inside Outback Pizza. I love doing this article and finding out stuff about people I’ve known for years but had no idea about their history.
Guy Burlage got the itch to play music when he was 10 years old and away at summer camp in the mountains of Virginia. There was a kid there playing “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys on guitar, and as Burlage said, “Man, I gotta know how to do that.” After that, he got into folk music and then rock ‘n’ roll. “I had all my brother’s records. He was 10 years older than me. I still have some of them.” Some of his favorites were Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and all the American rock ‘n’ roll stuff. “That tweaked my interest. I got into folk music for a while but when the Beatles hit, it was a done deal. I was getting into it full bore.”
Burlage met Watts in the second grade and they have been friends ever since. Before Seabird, they had a band called Denis and the Times which was started by Burlage’s brother. It was the late 60s and they were 15 at the time. They were signed by Trend Record label out of Georgia. They put out a couple of songs, one of which is a very sought-after single—”Flight Patterns.” If you find a 45 of it, it’s worth about $600. It’s in the Psychedelic Garage Band Hall of Fame. Google it and check out the song for yourself—it’s very cool. Burlage wrote it about an outer space journey and recorded it in a three-track studio.
The Seabird Band released an album in 1977 that you can see hanging today at Outback Pizza. Billboard Magazine picked it as a “Hot Pick” of 2,500 other albums one week in 1978. There were only four “Hot Picks,” two of which included Kenny Loggins and the Little River Band. Burlage says, “A band that has a self-released album, it’s kind of unheard of.” That album went on to be released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand where it became popular. At the time that they disbanded, they had pending deals with all the Scandinavian countries and into Central Europe. At the same time they had over 3,000 radio stations across the U.S. with the album on their “Top 20” playlists.
Although the band just came up to play Killington in the winter, they became so popular that they stayed year-round. They grew a following that took them all over New England and down to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The band was very good at self-promoting. Burlage says, “There was a time that you could drive around and promote your record by looking for radio towers. We would do this and drive to the base of the tower, where the radio station usually was. We would walk right in on the DJ and he would do an interview, play the record and usually we would get on their playlist.”
The band started in 1974 and disbanded in 1979 because of difference of opinions in the direction of the band. Burlage said, “I always say that if guys have a nice band don’t get a picture taken because it’s the kiss of death. Once you get a band photo taken, it’s all over. Someone will have a problem.”
The band was big at the Pickle Barrel, packing the room every time they played. They opened up for every major show played there, like the James Cotton Blues Band, Southside Johnny and many more. They hail from a town that has spawned many a great artist like Wayne Newton, Ella Fitzgerald, Clarence Clemons, Gene Vincent and Bruce Hornsby. “It was just a hotbed for great artists,” said Burlage. He started another version of Seabird in 1980 with Watts and this one had Wayne Canney, Jerry Dubeau and Mark Huntley. That band continued the popularity and played everywhere the first one played, and then some.
For the past 15 years, Guy Burlage has been performing for the Anheiser Busch corporation out of St. Louis, now InBev. He is the main performer at its Kingsmill Resort in Virginia from late April to December; then comes back to Killington. He also plays at Busch Gardens and the brewery. He said, “I would play for congressman, senators, governors. I played for the PGA tournament and most major corporations.” Most recently, he played a very special gig that was very secret. “I played a covert gig for Navy Seal Team Six, the ones who went and got Bin Laden. Right after they had done that, they had a retreat there and I played for them. One time Obama came and I was playing the marina area and Obama was listening to me from his deck. There were Secret Service everywhere.”
Burlage has some special gigs that really stand out for him. In the early 70s, he played a gig at Guantanamo Bay which he said was pretty interesting. He’s also played at naval bases in Puerto Rico and Cuba. They would fly them around on C-130s. His band played a weekend of shows with the original Allman Brothers Band. He’s met Elvis Presley while in Las Vegas, back in the “skinny Elvis” days. In 1980, he was told by a friend to get up to the Mountain Inn. He said, “Bring your guitar and get on up here.” Burlage explained, “I knew that James Taylor and Carly Simon were staying there but I had no idea I was being invited to a private party. It was me; Tuna [Bob Evans] who was managing the inn at the time; Jack Giguere, of course, of Killington fame; and Preston Smith who started Killington Resort. James was sitting on the floor playing guitar, it was pretty informal. Somebody shouted ‘Guy plays guitar’ so James told me to go get it. Two or three hours later we were still playing on the floor. He was showing me some songs and I gave him some ideas for his cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday.’ That was a pretty cool Killington party.”
Burlage explained what you can expect when you see him play. “I do a lot of different things, from the Dylan-folk sound all the way to an edgier Bruce Springsteen. I’ll play some Jimmy Buffet and some country. I grew up listening to a lot of country. That’s pretty much what my dad had playing on the radio all the time. I like to engage the people and involve them as to what’s happening in the music scene. Not everything that is brand new is going to last. I kind of hang in there with the stuff that people are always going to enjoy. I like to play what they want to hear and be engaging with the audience, which is what everyone needs to do anyway [laughing].”
Burlage loves what he does and loves to share it with others. “I like to show people a little bit about what I know how to do, which is sing, do things a little more rock, country, bluesy, slide guitar. I’m not naturally a guy who likes to get up in front of people but after a while you get going and you open up. It’s like starting off a conversation with a complete stranger. You have to bring them in.”
Burlage is genuine; he really is. “One thing I really appreciated doing is having played Killington for all these years…call them fans if you want but I call them friends—music friends. The people that really come to see you and they call certain songs out because they know you’re going to do them—people that have seen me play and know my history with Seabird and my history with Killington. That’s one thing that I really love.”
Burlage’s plans for summer are to hop back and forth from Virginia to Killington. See him play at Sam’s Steakhouse, Ludlow on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and at Outback Pizza, Killington on Fridays and Sundays at 6 p.m.