Sound man

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By Dean Bonner
Opelika Observer

Submitted photo John Burns has made a career out of touring with well-known musicians and now teaches special education at Dadeville High School. Above, Ozzy Osbourne holds Jennifer, Burns’ infant daughter.
Submitted photo
John Burns has made a career out of touring with well-known musicians and now teaches special education at Dadeville High School. Above, Ozzy Osbourne holds Jennifer, Burns’ infant daughter.

John Burns jumped up from his soundboard, running to investigate the screaming. Reaching the door of Ozzy’s dressing room, he saw his month-old daughter Jennifer screaming. Ozzy was holding Jennifer, and Ozzy was screaming. Someone snapped a very special family photo. Ozzy grinned, John grinned, Sharon Osbourne laughed and the three spent considerable time discussing diaper rash and baby maintenance.  Burns traveled a long road to reach that moment, and a longer road to reach his current position as a Special Education teacher at Dadeville High School.
Burns loves music. He got into the sound engineering and production business by accident. Burns was in a band called Ramrod. When they broke up, he ended up with the sound equipment. Musicians began asking him to run their sound for their concerts and recording sessions, and his business grew into something quite substantial.
It’s been a fun but often trying career. It is real work.
In 1983 a bar owner asked him to do sound for a new band. The bar would hold perhaps 75 guests. Only 16 people showed up to hear an unknown band named U2.
In 1985, he worked with soul man James Brown on his Silver Anniversary Tour.
Along the way, John continued his education, earning a Masters in Special Education, then a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and Supervision. Burns is a large man, but not imposing because of the way he projects warmth and humor. His quick wit belies intelligence. He’s just fun to be around.
Burns shared many stories about his travels around the globe with some of the best-known bands in the world.  He was sound engineer or producer for a long list of performers:  Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC and Aerosmith. John traveled with Cyndi Lauper on her first tour. He fondly described her as fun and energetic.  He toured with Eddie Murphy, who took his music very seriously and refused to sprinkle any of his trademark humor into his music shows.
At L’amour in Brooklyn, he worked with heavy metals bands like Metallica, The Ramones, former Twisted Sister member Dee Snider’s band Widow Maker; Anthrax and Motorhead. He toured with White Lion for two years, including a tour in Japan. John’s son is seen climbing a playground slide in White Lion’s music video “When the Children Cry.” He worked with Ray Charles at Jones Beach, with Johnny Cash and with Willie Nelson.
Burns had the pleasure of working with The Allman Brothers and with The Greg Allman Band. And with Kiss star Ace Frehley’s band called Frehley’s Comet.
He recorded a guitar player for one band who couldn’t do the same riff the same way twice and had little confidence in their success. But Biohazard’s album he produced became a gold record.
One Christmas, John got a call to do sound for Doro Pesch, the opening act for a German band called The Scorpions. He told them he wouldn’t leave his family at Christmas. They told him, “We rented you an apartment.  Come on over.”
Burns packed up his family and they enjoyed touring countless German castles. John only had to work two days a week, giving them plenty of time to explore.
John recalled another heavy metal performer whose crew carried an oxygen bottle for the musician.  They had to physically heft the player up onto the stage, and he constantly wobbled like a gyroscope. John worked his soundboard, expecting a sour note. He was amazed that in all the performances he witnessed, the player never, ever, hit a wrong note or chord.
Record company executives were trying to keep one band’s excesses under control. The band members and all crew signed an agreement that they’d not even be seen in a bar, even on days off.  John witnessed a few crewmembers being put on a plane home just for being spotted in a drinking establishment.
One of Burns’ favorite jobs was a small birthday party with 200 guests.  A very well off investment banker wanted his favorite band to play.  He spent $150,000 to rent the concert hall. He had the dance floor filled with barcaloungers and couches for the guests to comfortably view the band.  Hiring The Who to play set him back another 1.3 million dollars.  It was an awesome show.
John is semi-retired from the music business. He travels once a month to New Jersey and New York to set up the sound equipment he owns at Irving Plaza and a couple of other venues to tailor the sound to specific performers’ styles.  He still works for music promoter Live Nation.
Burns and  his wife of 40 years, Vivian,  purchased at home in Driftwood on Lake Martin in 2000.  It was an occasional home until 2008, when they put down deep roots and made their move from New Jersey permanent.
His daughter Jennifer, now age 26, went native.  She grew to love fishing, and recently killed her first deer – at 200 yards. Jennifer graduated from Auburn in 2010.
Jennifer met Don Eckies, a former Auburn University football player and fell in love. Not long ago, Jennifer landed a nice bass, and when she turned around in the boat, Don was kneeling holding a ring. He was hooked and she said yes. With their love of the lake, Don and Jennifer wanted a lake wedding. They were married on April 18 in an intimate ceremony on an unnamed island just north of Young’s Island. After a brief but sweet ceremony under the pines, they withdrew to Chuck’s Marina for the wedding reception.
The party enjoyed great food and music in the Key West atmosphere Chuck’s is famous for.  With all the music in her blood, the couple will no doubt find harmony.
What drew a Jersey guy to the Lake area?  A fluke. His in-laws retired to Jamaica in 1977.  While on vacation in Jamaica some years back, his wife got a call.  When the operator said, “Your sister is calling,” Vivian replied that she had no sister. It turned out she had a half-sister unknown to her, and they met.  Her sister had a place down on Lake Martin. The Burns visited Alabama for the first time, and fell in love with its beauty and people. The family and their six golden retrievers love to play in the lake.
Their favorite lake place is a small island that has an eagle’s nest.  It’s where his daughter Jennifer was married.
What does Doctor John listen to for pleasure?  He says mostly country music.
John is a soundman and a sound man. Give a nod of recognition for what he has achieved and continues to achieve as he molds young minds.

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