Ed Burke was a real cartoon character and the events and colorful stories that packed his seventy six years on this planet sound like they came out of a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Loud, very opinionated, and profane, Ed led by example. and was never afraid to speak his mind. Born and raised in Milton, MA to Ed Burke Sr. and Mary Cosgove, he was an only child and had a hard life growing up. His father ran bars, at one time owning The Tam on Beacon Street in Brookline, and his mother died when he was ten. Ed was then sent to boarding school for a few years before graduating from Milton High School and attending Bentley College. During this time, he learned to be tough and wasn’t afraid to insult you to your face. Ed worked in a Stop and Shop warehouse when he inherited his dad’s bar and added live music to the venue. Located in a tough area in Boston’s Mission Hill, Burke didn’t tolerate any foolishness at his club, controlling it with an iron hand with the help of a baseball bat and .38 pistol always nearby. Ed Burke’s was a small one hundred and fifty capacity dive bar and had a diversified crowd including: medical workers from Brigham and Woman’s Faulkner Hospital, Museum of Fine Arts employees, local cops and firefighters, musicians and the working class regulars who lived in the neighborhood. It showcased blues, rock and r&b from the seventies to the nineties. Boston Magazine named it Best Neighborhood Bar in 1990, and The Boston Blues Society later gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. The bar’s tee shirt bragged: “where civilization ends and wildlife begins.” The nightclub closed in 1993 for two reasons. The city’s Huntington Avenue road repair and subway track reconstruction in front of his bar dragged on for years and the heavy equipment took up all the parking spaces. Around the same time, people began avoiding the Mission Hill area after Charles Stuart lied to the police and said he was shot and his pregnant wife Carol DiMaiti Stuart, was killed by an African- American who had forced his way into their car in Mission Hill. “People would call up and ask ‘where are you located?’ and as soon as we’d say ‘Mission Hill’ they’d hang up,” Burke once remembered. In his final years, with his health declining, Ed moved to an apartment in Quincy, drove a cab, and continued to go to live shows around town to support artists and the local music scene. Ironically, this man who’s whole life consisted of caring for others and supporting musicians and the blues scene died of congestive heart failure; but his life and legacy will never be forgotten.
THREE GREAT ED BURKE’S STORIES: Rick Danko (The Band) gigged at Ed Burke’s in the 1980’s. He would play alone and the tickets were ten dollars and Danko would get the door. There would always be at least a hundred people in the audience and he played for an hour or so. Ed was overheard saying: “Well sure there’s a lot of people here Rick, but nobody is going to dance and that’s when I sell a lot of booze.”
Rick replied: “Don’t worry Ed, they’re a hard drinking crowd.”
Another time, The Noel Redding Band was playing and Ed and I are standing on the side near the stairs going down to the Men’s Room and the backstage basement area watching them play. It’s loud and Ed tells me “Ginger Baker is playing at the Worcester Centrum tomorrow night and I heard he may come by.” As the words come out of his mouth, I look over his shoulder and see the tall distinguished-looking Cream drummer with his back against the wall watching the band like we were; and standing right behind us. Thinking quickly, I turn Ed around and say to Baker as we approach: “Ginger, this is Ed Burke, owner of the bar,” then introduce them, and the rest, as they say, is history with Ginger joining Noel and his band onstage for a few songs, the next set.
Another time, Muddy Waters Band vet Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson was playing and between sets downstairs were Luther, and his iconic visitors Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, and Eddie Kirkland smoking a joint; when Ed comes downstairs carrying a few empty cases of beer for storage. “Look Ed,” I shout to him as we break the law in his basement, ” THREE Grammy Award winners smoking a joint together in YOUR club!!!,” like it was a hall of fame moment. It was, and Ed Burke shook his head with sneering disapproval and climbed the stairs back to the wildlife upstairs.
(by A.J. Wachtel)