R.I.P., Lil’ Joe Burton

Born in Chicago on May 4, 1952, Joe is best known as the leader of “The Atlanta Horns”, a portable horn section that played with many artists, most notably Mudcat. It all began in 1964, when Joe, just a 12-year-old middle school student who played trombone in the school band, met harmonica legend Junior Wells and was invited to play with him and his band. That evening’s performance got Joe a permanent spot in the band and he ultimately ended up running Junior’s four-piece horn section. Joe’s work with Wells led to gigs with Otis Clay, Bobby Womack, Little Milton, and Joe Tex – all while he was still in high school.

Once he graduated in 1970, Joe was free to travel extensively and he joined B.B. King’s band, almost certainly the busiest and most widely traveled blues band ever. Joe toured and recorded with the King of the Blues for 10 years and it was none other than King who gave Joe his nickname, “Lil’ Joe from Chicago.”.

With B.B., he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Midnight Special, and Soul Train. Burton plays on some of B.B.’s best-selling albums, including Lucille Talks Back, Guess Who, Indianola Mississippi Seeds, L.A. Midnight, and B.B. King & Bobby Bland for the First Time…Live.

In 1980, Burton moved to San Francisco and formed his own band, Lil Joe and the Wrecking Crew. The band stayed together for two years, then Joe moved to Spain, where he worked with a Platters tribute group for a year. When he returned to Chicago, he rejoined Junior Well’s Band and remained a member until Junior’s death in early 1998. While on tour with Junior, Joe met his wife Jacki, at none other than Blind Willie’s. Joe relocated to Atlanta and they married in 1996.

In 2004, Joe joined Mudcat and he appears on all of the band’s CDs from that year’s I’ll Be Young Once Too, to 2018’s Castaway. Joe led The Atlanta Horns, which consisted of him on trombone, Mico Bowles on trumpet, and Daryl Dunn on saxophone, and he is a member of the Music Maker Revue. Joe recorded his only solo CD in 2006, Live in Paris. The 10-track record was produced by Lola Gulley, who is featured on the album. Joe has one daughter, Cara, a doctor who lives in Washington, D.C.