It’s summertime and thousands of people are flocking to Gulf Shores to enjoy the surf and sand. Many are accenting their beach trip with a visit to LuLu’s Homeport Marina. LuLu’s could be considered the Trop Rock capitol of the Gulf Coast, but many may wonder, what exactly is Trop Rock? Local singer-songwriter Brent Burns may be the best person to ask.
Burns is a Trop Rock superstar, who happens to call Gulf Shores home. Over the years, he has released 10 albums, toured extensively across the nation and won numerous awards at the Trop Rock Music Awards.
He has been named “Official Music Ambassador of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau” while songs such as “Pain at the Pump” and “Drill, Drill, Drill” have gotten him tons of media attention. A Monday regular at LuLu’s, Burns injects his tropical sounds with humor and engages in a friendly relationship with his audiences. Burns made a pit stop on the way to his Monday gig at LuLu’s to give Lagniappe readers a glimpse into the world of this Trop Rocker.
SC: How long have you been performing professionally?
BB: You sure you want to know (laughing)? It’s been 50 years.
SC: Has music always been your business?
BB: No, I came out of the Army and was a patient at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, Colo. I started hanging out in some of the bars, and I played rock ‘n’ roll in high school in a band called Grapes of Wrath. I started sitting in with these duos and trios, and some booking agent came up and asked, ‘Hey, you wanna do this for a living?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Can you make a living at this?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you actually can.’ I said, ‘Well, talk to me.’ I had never thought about it. Then, I went back to Phoenix, Ariz. and enrolled in college and took acting, but I started playing music. I found a bunch of gigs automatically. I fell in love with the process and the party. Back in those days, it was play and drink, play and drink, then drink, drink, drink and play. It was quite a party for about 30 years. I’m a little slower now, but for the first 30 years I played music, it was one big party. It’s so much fun.
SC: Honestly, until I came across you several years ago, I never knew that there was a Trop Rock music genre or scene. How would you define Trop Rock?
BB: It’s a pretty broad term. There are several purists, as far as keeping things tropical. A lot of my stuff has a humorous tint to it, which is not true of all Trop Rock music. It’s all pretty lighthearted, and I would call it escapism music to a great extent. We sing about a lifestyle that a lot of people may never live. Some of us get to live at the beach, but a lot of people have that beach attitude. They may live in Milwaukee, but they have a Tiki bar in the backyard and beach stuff everywhere. They go to the beach every chance they can afford to. They may never get to live at the beach because of work reasons or kids in the area or obligations, but they still have that beach attitude. I go play up there in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Ohio and New York, and they get into it. We’re providing escapism of sort for folks who like the beach lifestyle. They can live it and stay at home.
SC: What made you want to move to the Gulf Coast?
BB: In 1972, I played a Holiday Inn down here, which has been torn down since then. I fell in love with this particular town of Gulf Shores. I started coming back every summer to play at the Holiday Inn and just really fell in love with the people and the Southern charm of this beach town. In 1980, I lived in Nashville, which means I could play in Gulf Shores. Seven months out of the year, I was living in Gulf Shores and living in Nashville part time. Then, the times in Gulf Shores kept getting longer and longer. In 1991, I moved down here full time.
SC: You’ve got 10 albums full of songs, and they seem to keep coming. What’s your secret?
BB: They just come from life and I’ve worked with a lot of good co-writers. In Nashville, I made some friends up there, and some of them visit the Gulf Coast on a regular basis. If they come down here and they want to write a song, then they know that they can give me a call. I’ve been able to write with Steve Dean, who has had six number one songs, and Bill Whyte is my number one co-writer. Co-writing is pretty efficient. It’s a craft that I learned in Nashville. Two good heads are better than one, and sometimes three are better. I do write by myself sometimes, but it’s a lonely business. Co-writing is a lot of fun, and you can sit around and laugh and have a good time.
SC: Bill Whyte has been one of your favorite co-writers. What is it about him?
BB: He’s about my best friend in the world. I just talked to him on the phone today. He’s just a great guy. He’s in the Country Broadcasters Hall of Fame and he also writes commentary for radio. He’s just a good person. We got introduced by a mutual friend many years ago and we just started writing. We always have fun writing no matter what. He’s funny, and he’s a great guy. We do a show every once in awhile and we crack each other up.
SC: What’s your favorite thing about playing LuLu’s?
BB: I’ve been here for 10 years now. The first time that I was here, LuLu Buffett was here and watching what I was doing and checking me out, musically of course, but it would’ve been a great career move. I digress. She liked what I did and liked how I worked the crowd. They said, ‘Hey, we like what you do. What night of the week do you want to play?’ I asked, ‘What’s the slowest night of the week?’ They said, ‘Mondays.’ So, I took Mondays and have been doing that ever since. LuLu is a sweet, sweet lady and she treats her employees great. She’s found that rare combination of business and people. I look forward to Monday nights at LuLu’s. It’s a great place to go. The people are great. You’re on the Intercoastal Waterway and it’s a great place to be on Monday nights.
SC: Has Jim Cantore heard his song?
BB: I’ve heard that he has. Somebody came by from the Weather Channel and they said that they had to have that song for Jim Cantore. So, I gave him a copy and signed it, ‘Don’t beat me up.’ I heard back through email and heard that the people from the Weather Channel were going to use my song in bump, but I never heard back. So, I like to think that he heard the song and threw a tantrum in the boardroom. He’ll probably come down here and kick me in the crotch like he did that one guy.
Date: Monday, July 7 at 6 p.m.
Venue: LuLu’s Homeport Marina, 200 E. 25th Ave., Gulf Shores. www.lulubuffett.com