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Point Blank - 2002 Interview with Rusty Burns

INTERVIEW: Point Blank (June 2002)
Close up and personal with Texan guitarist Rusty Burns

In The Spotlight - Point Blank
Interview with guitarist and founder Rusty Burns
Written by: Alun Thomas (June 02, 2002)

June 2002: You could be forgiven for thinking the members of Point Blank disappeared off the face of the earth. After all it's been twenty years since their last album 'On A Roll' and eighteen since the final split. But the Texan boogie rockers have always maintained a cult following, whether it be from 70's Southern rock fans or AOR buffs who took to their later work in the early 80's. With this in mind it was a pleasant surprise to come across Point Blank founder and lead guitarist Rusty Burns e-mail address a few months back. I mailed Rusty who was more than willing to fill GLORY-DAZE in on what really went down in those days. More importantly he makes it clear he never went anywhere and maybe there would be another Point Blank album.

As the founding member, Point Blank was entirely Rusty's creation. Interestingly he had been signed before the band was even formed. 'I was signed by Bill Ham (ZZ Top producer) as a solo artist with his management company Lone Wolf Productions' Rusty begins. 'My vision was to play the music I was writing in a band which shared the same vision. I searched for two years for the players that would fit the music coming out of me.' Rusty's deal with Ham was not by luck: 'I worked with ZZ as a guitar tech off and on for that time, searching for compatible musicians. It turned out I ended up with guys I had already worked with periodically over the years. First I hired John O'Daniel (vocals) and Buzzy Gruen (drums) then Phillip Petty (bass) and finally Kim Davis (guitar). We began touring as Point Blank in September 1974.'

The 70's were a boom decade for Southern Rock, especially after Lynyrd Skynyrd's major success. Did this make it easier or difficult in obtaining a record deal? 'Actually there were a lot of labels that wanted to sign the band but it took a while to land THE DEAL' muses Rusty. 'It was easy to get a deal, but considerably harder to get a deal with a label that had any idea of what to do with your band.' Eventually Rusty decided to sign with Arista, which he concedes was an unwise move. 'We though that being the only rock act per se on the label would give us a good shot at success, but we were completely overlooked' he recounts. 'Arista was more suited to the Melissa Manchester and Barry Manilow genre of artists. We toured for two years without any deal at all, totally unheard of in those days. We weren't as marketable as the pretty, big haired bands, but we didn't care about the cosmetics. We cared about the music.'

Point Blank worked extensively with Ham, who had taken ZZ Top to the first division of stadium rock. He had visions of recreating this with Point Blank, something that didn't sit to well with Rusty. 'Bill was our manager and producer and saw Point Blank becoming the next step beyond ZZ Top. Unfortunately he used the same formula in our production as was used on ZZ. This stifled our creativity in those early years. I began feeling we were boxed in as a ZZ clone though we were anything but. Don't get me wrong, I love ZZ, but I cannot be ZZ anymore than I can be Bonnie Raitt, whom I love also.'

Stifled or not, Point Blank's early sound was beefier than those before them, perhaps the heaviest Southern act of the 1976/77 era. This is a point of contention for Rusty though, that they were a 'Southern' band. 'It is imperative that I draw a distinction between Southern Rock and the Texas sound' he states firmly, 'as they were two different animals. Southern rock is and was groomed considerably by many of the Delta blues greats that were later emulated by The Allman Brothers who are an island unto themselves. They were the creation and manifestation of the term Southern Rock. The Texas sound was groomed of the many Texas blues legends that we as guitar players tried to emulate. Let's face it, Texas was and hopefully still is, ALL about guitar players. This blended with the inherent Country music and Western swing, that was the native music of the state, made up a sound that was like gun powder mixed with fire. The energy and catalyst were spawned of Texas and the entrance of Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Blackmore etc amalgamated with out native style produced what is known as the Texas sound.'

Point Blank toured non-stop in the 70's, so much that Rusty swears they were in The Guinness Book Of Records! 'Yeah we toured relentlessly from start to end' affirms Rusty. 'I never saw the evidence but I was told on certain occasions that The Guinness Book Of World Records reported Point Blank for one particular year being the hardest touring band in the business. We spent nine to ten months a year on the road between 1974-82. While in the throes of this torture-touring we realized we must get on the ball with new records. For 'The Hard Way' (1980) we were under pressure to produce, but there was not enough material that passed the test to fill a record we could live with. We conceived, wrote and recorded 'The Hard Way' in three weeks and four days. While touring we recorded many of the shows so we had shows to choose from. This gave a snapshot of the live aspect of the band.'

I asked Rusty if the bands they toured with changed as they moved from Southern to AOR genres, and who exactly they gigged with. Rusty names a list so large and impressive that that it's too long to be repeated here. But with names like Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Joe Cocker, Santana, Blackfoot, Eddie Money, UFO, Journey and Loverboy included, they played with the best. 'The list goes on and on'. explains Rusty 'There was not too much of a change in the acts we toured with, as those were the same bands touring in support of their records as their careers unfolded. So we saw a lot of the same guys over the years.'

As the 70's drew to a close Point Blank began rethinking their musical direction. The Southern aspect was played out and a more melodic approach was taken. This meant the removal of original vocalist John O'Daniel and the addition of Bubba Keith, who suited the AOR genre better. What changes came about with these different styles? 'Bubba was and is a very peaceful musical entity. He wrote and continues to write very prolific songs that were very important in those years of growth. He is a great singer that had been on the road for years and was more than able to step in and start singing. We had done all we could with the boogie stuff. We as individuals were moving musically to different places. Becoming stagnant as a guitar player is my worst fear. Resting on your laurels is what the record company does and it should never be the band that partakes in such complacency.' From this I can assume Daniel's didn't want to move forward to AOR and was let go. Rusty never openly admits this however.

With albums like 'American Excess' (1981) and 'On A Roll' (1982) Point Blank were light years from their boogie past. Considering their history was it an attempt to boost sales? 'None whatsoever'. Rusty replies defiantly. 'We changed from record to record. People were hearing us grow. Sometimes they like you better when you're a toddler than when you're an adult' he explains trying to reason between the two sides of Point Blank. 'Growth happens and I welcome it' he continues. 'When I quit growing as a guitar player/producer I will quit. When a band stops growing they should quit and start anew. We of course needed to sell more and more records but I never cared about some formula that boosted sales. We wrote and played what was in our hearts.'

If you are going to shift to another sound then AOR is the way to go. There can be no dispute of that. But weren't Point Blank's roots entrenched in the Texan mould? Were you betraying those roots? 'Did I betray my roots? Absolutely not' comes the convincing answer. 'My roots are still growing and even today expanding and spreading. The perception of others regarding roots is actually just a snapshot in time of a particular musical location you were at. We were just passing through that location, looking for a place that makes us happy'. comes the metaphorical reply. 'For some fans one of the snapshots from another location is more favorable' he concludes, outlining the two different sets of fans, some of whom preferred AOR, others boogie.

The shift to AOR paid off. 'American Excess' hit no 80 on Billboard while the single 'Nicole' hit 39. After the years of toil did it seem as if you had turned the corner? 'After a top forty record we felt as though we had finally been noticed seven years after the fact. Record companies decide hits. I was fooled for a long time as to what made a hit. What makes a hit is MONEY. The song is important but a song without a budget is nothing but the blood, sweat and tears of the artist. MCA (whom Point Blank signed with after 'Second Season') got some of the money and got a top forty hit with 'Nicole'. It charted according to the money spent. The more money spent makes for a better chart position. It (i.e the system) really has become a full-grown monster today, but even then it was a really dirty system by which you get airplay for your records. We waited so long for a hit record that when it arrived we enjoyed it, but it was too little too late. We just kept on doing what we had done for the previous seven years...tour and tour.'

Did record company politics ever dampen your enthusiasm for making music, based on this experience? 'One time. When we were with Arista, Clive Davis wanted us to record a Bob Seger song called 'Beautiful Loser', with the promise of a hit record because he owned the publishing on the song. It didn't work and we felt like musical prostitutes, yet in light of that we did get to show off our vocal potential so it wasn't a total wash. At that time we vowed never to be pressured again.'

After the success of 1981 Point Blank tried again in 1982 with 'On A Roll'. It didn't match the sales of 'American Excess', although it wasn't the bands fault. So what in fact led to the split? Rusty makes it clear it wasn't by choice. 'In September of 1982 I had a freak skydiving accident and broke my back in three places, so needless to say a few months of downtime was on our plate. During this period we began to notice that some areas of our business started to stink. Upon further investigation we found out things were not right. Touring as much as we did made it hard for us to keep an eye on all the things related to our business, so we sued our manager in federal court to straighten this out. But we ran out of money before we could uncover all the things that were wrong. Our assets were frozen to ensure fairness to both sides, but that of course bound us from the lifeblood of our work. It was a sad time indeed. Having to watch our careers unravel and collapse due to someone else's shortcomings is like watching a loved one die. I disbanded the group in 1984. The name I had given the band was not even registered in my name like I had been told.'

So what exactly have you been up to in the time since the band split? I'm sure a lot of people would be interested. 'I have been pretty much on the road working with other artists. I worked with Shake Russell, a fellow label mate on MCA Records for five years, 84-89, and produced two records for him on Austin Records. I worked with Black Oak Arkansas for a stint. In early 91 I joined Ricky Lynn Gregg in the country music arena. I played on two of his records and toured for five years with him. After that I pulled John O'Daniel and Buzzy Gruen together and we began playing under the name Bigfoot Johnson. Don't ask about the name (laughs), it just seemed silly enough to stick. We have Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan) on bass and Michael Hamilton (Point Blank 1981-82) on keys. It's soooo good. It is more musical fun than I have had since Point Blank. I own a recording studio in Fort Worth, Texas called 'The Control Room' and this where I produce records for other artists.' So much for fading into obscurity then! Regarding Point Blank, have you considered reforming the band properly? 'This WILL happen at some point, at least for another record.' A mouth watering prospect or what? One can only wonder what new material from these legends would sound like in the new millennium.

For a band with as much history as yours there must be a ton of memories. Is there any one that stands out? 'There are so many memories it's quite hard to single one out as the most dominant, but playing for over 100,000 people in Detroit with Bob Seger and Todd Rundgren still stands out as one of the largest crowds we ever performed in front of ' Rusty reminisces fondly. 'Another powerful memory would be the day Skynyrd went down as we were to finish the world tour with them. We were on our way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which was to be the first show on the tour, when we heard on the radio what happened to them. We were stunned and saddened. These guys were friends and the worst had happened. A sad day indeed.'

Do you feel frustrated that Point Blank are not given credit for their involvement in Southern rock due to their early demise? 'Not really. I was, during the days of touring but now the frustration would be extra baggage and there's no time for that in my life anymore.' As an aside which one are you on the cover of 'Second Season'? I'd be scared to run into you lot! 'From left to right: Burns, Davis, Gruen, Petty, O Daniel. Like I said we weren't pretty but we were effective.' There it is. The concrete details behind the Point Blank story. The revelation that Point Blank will record another album, at some point, will maybe restore people's memories about what a great band that they were. Boogie and AOR. Hopefully then they will be mentioned in the same breath as Skynyrd and co. By all means they already should be.

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