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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Opener: Joseph Henry “T Bone” Burnett

The Opener

Joseph Henry “T Bone” Burnett

Award-winning musician and producer

“For my entire life, Fort Worth has been an incubator for art and music. Filled with good museums and great honky-tonks and people with taste and vision of supporting and encouraging artists.”


At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Joseph Henry “T Bone” Burnett is a towering figure who invariably stands out in a crowd. Yet, his austere nature and appearance may make him go unnoticed. Sometimes an enigma and sometimes the center-of-attention, Burnett has created music both inside and outside recording studio windows. Winner of an Oscar, a Golden Globe and more than a dozen Grammy awards, Burnett has performed alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and B.B. King. He also produced music for TV shows Nashville and True Detective, and provided soundtracks for films like The Big Lebowski, The Hunger Games and Crazy Heart.


Burnett was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but his parents moved to Fort Worth early in his life. His father, Henry Burnett Jr., worked for leather company Tandy Corporation. They lived in the Arlington Heights neighborhood and Burnett attended Paschal High School.

Burnett spoke at the Visit Fort Worth annual meeting on Feb. 14. Before his remarks, Burnett attended a reception celebrating the honorary renaming of St. Louis Ave in his name. Burnett was born in St. Louis, and the street is now home to Record Town, the music store that fired his musical imagination in his youth

Music fascinated Burnett early on in his youth. He listened to all kinds of artists from Louis Armstrong and Peggy Lee to Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and The Beatles. He decided to start playing music because he said, “it sounded good. Music organized the cacophony of the world into something beautiful.”

Fort Worth provided him the ways to experience and enjoy music – and still does. “The support and encouragement I found here growing up gave me most of what I needed.”

He befriended fellow musician Stephan Bruton, whose father founded the iconic Record Town near TCU. Together, the two would discover recording studios, music concert venues and even form their own bands. A band he still remembers having an interesting name was The Bachs Itself. “It was a band for about three months. But we were a really good band.”

He left Fort Worth and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Since then, he has excelled as a record producer, musician and songwriter. But Fort Worth remains close to his heart. “I’m very moved by seeing this community, by seeing how far it has come. I’m sold. I’m going to have to come back a little more often. The whole country, the whole world could use this enthusiasm.”

Burnett has been a longtime supporter of arts and music, renouncing technology and bureaucracy for diminishing its value every chance he gets. “You just have to talk about what you see. I see something going on. It’s clear to me and it’s not clear to other people.” He co-founded the real estate company Cloud Hill, which had planned – although so far unsuccessfully – a unique development project in Nashville centered around art and culture with a focus on sustainable housing and education. “We need to break down that programming and start relating as individuals rather than tribes and members of groups. There’s one race. We’re all related.”

A (small) sampler of albums produced by T Bone Burnett

Delbert McClinton: Delbert and Glen (1972)

An early effort from Fort Worth’s own Delbert McClinton.

Los Lobos: How Will the Wolf Survive? Burnett produced several early albums by the longtime rock ‘n’ roll band.

Roy Orbison: Mystery Girl (1989), A Black & White Night Live (1989). Burnett produced two comeback albums for the big-voiced rock ‘n’ roller before he died.

Tony Bennett & k.d. lang: A Wonderful World, (2002) Proving he could venture outside the world of rock, Burnett produced these two classic vocalists.

Burnett made bluegrass cool again working with the Cohen brothers on the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

In 2014, Burnett worked with Fort Worth’s own Betty Buckley on her well-received Ghostlight album.

He is currently working on a new gospel album from rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, according to Rolling Stone magazine. 

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