I’m a sucker for a redemption story, so I’m inspired to help write one on this page. If you’ve lived in Salem for any amount of time and pay attention to the music scene, you’ve heard the name of blues guitarist, Gary Burford. He’s been out of the game for while, but he is back, and he wants you to know that.

With the recent return of Tim Knight’s shop, Guitar Castle, where Burford once worked back in the 90s, doing a piece on Burford seemed appropriately nostalgic and also warranted. He’s had an interesting and tumultuous life, but he’s also put tons of work into the local music scene over the years.

Burford served in the military for over 17 years. It’s actually an interesting story, but at his request, I’ll leave it at that.

In 1994, between tours in the military, he became active in the Salem music scene. He worked at Ranch Records; he gave lessons at Guitar Castle; he booked shows at just about every venue in Salem, Silverton, McMinnville and Stayton; and played in the Boyd Small Big Blues Band, the Bob Beck Band, The Terraplanes and in the Gary Burford Trio. The Trio was nominated for Best Regional Act by the Cascade Blues Association and he was voted Best Local Act in 2004 and Musician of the Year by the Statesman Journal three times. He’s worked with Terry Robb, Paul Delay, Lloyd Jones, Curtis Salgado and Jake Blair, to name but a few. Point being: he’s got a rock solid resume.

Here’s where the redemption comes in. This hard working blues man developed a hard living lifestyle over the years. Burford made his living playing music, which put him in bars most nights of the week. “The best thing was you got free drinks all night. The worst thing was you got free drinks all night.” He spoke to me candidly about his struggles with drugs and alcohol. He lost jobs, trashed relationships and spent time in jail.

Then in 2012, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He stayed in the VA hospital for quite a while. That experience helped him turn the corner and enabled him to get his life back on track. And that includes getting back into his music. He released a 12 song CD last year with Randy Flook appropriately titled, “Redemption.” The songs are markedly mellower than his previous work, perhaps because of Flook’s influence on the songs. My favorite is the title track. It is much less blues and more of a gentle country rock ballad to himself. It is heartfelt and honest about where he’s been and what’s ahead.

Gary is on his way to a clean slate. He’s almost completed the VA’s drug and alcohol treatment program, he’s cancer free and his military pension kicks in for his many years of service. He’s making music again and is eager to rebuild relationships. I asked him what he wanted to say with this article and he said honestly, “Promotion. I want to get my name back out there.” With that, he will be releasing a new album in April of this year, “Low Down Shack.” It’s a collection of songs he wrote when he was a teenager. He says these songs are not blues, but straight up rock and roll.

Gary will be playing Taproot on Friday, January 27th at 8pm. Welcome back.