Album cover

Master Wilburn Burchette: 1939-2023

California mail-order mystic Master Wilburn Burchette was first known from his ads, hidden in the back pages of Fate Magazine, Beyond Reality, and Gnostica News. On offer: Burchett’s seven-part, block-printed “Psychic Meditation Course,” designed to teach people how to listen to music. To go along with his lessons, Burchette sold a series of instrumental guitar and electronic records featuring ornate hand-drawn cover designs, complete with listening instructions from the Master himself. Since just his twelfth year, Burchette had been transfixed by the parapsychological, spending as much time reading books on Tibetan mysticism fundamentals as he did practicing guitar, the vibrations of which he used to create tonal pictures and patterns. After time spent teaching classical guitar, Master Wilburn Burchette released seven albums in the seven years spanning 1971 through 1977, before abruptly burning and discarding everything related to his musical explorations.

By the early 2000s Burchette had developed a reputation as a reclusive grouch who hung up on anyone trying to speak to him about his music. Forewarned, I improvised the strategy of calling Wilburn, who was in the phone book, and talking in a wall of words for a minute straight or more, making sure to keep him engaged and providing ample evidence that I wasn’t a threat in any way whatsoever. I think he respected the hustle in this approach and let out a chuckle, and we started a very sporadic and largely mysterious phone relationship that led to Burchette appearing on my new age compilation I Am The Center, and later connecting Burchette with the Numero Group, where I began working in 2015. We produced vinyl reissues of four of Wil’s albums, and released all seven digitally.

In 2018 I convinced him to do an interview with my friend Matthew Simonson for The New Age Issue of the label’s magazine, Periodical Numerical. The finished product reflects the clever, funny man who told me once years earlier that he never talked to the public because he wanted always to “preserve the mystery.” We've made that interview available below.

Yesterday I awakened to news that Wilburn Burchette, 84, and his brother Kenneth, 76, were found at their shared home in El Cajon by San Diego County deputies, and appeared to have been dead “for some time.” I hadn’t spoken to Wil since he did the interview, and never spoke to Ken, who was even more mysterious than his brother. An autopsy is pending. I can’t say any more at the moment except to share my impression of Wil as a brilliant man, the likes of which we will not see again, and to suggest everyone reading this put Master Wilbur Burchette's 1973 masterpiece Guitar Grimoire on.

Douglas Mcgowan
Numero Group

To our knowledge, this is the first time Wilburn Burchette has allowed a recorded interview since the 1970s. The mysterious Burchette, who for years was known to hang up on anyone asking about his music, reiterated a lack of interest in disturbing the mystery and mystique he crafted with his seven records. 

(Four of them—Guitar Grimoire (1973), Music Of The Godhead For Supernatural Meditation (1975), Transcendental Music For Meditation (1976), and Mind Storm (1977)—are available again from Numero.)

Matthew Simonson spoke to Burchette in July 2018. Numero's Amelia Sheridan transcribed, condensed and rearranged the following free-flowing comments. 

Did you know that I haven't done anything in music in 40 years or more? It all came out in the 70s. And we [Burchette Brothers, a label run with Wilburn's brother] ran through the whole thing and decided that we had to quit. It was going nicely but we had to quit it and make some money. So I did something else. [He became Will Loy, a psychic.] We've been making a lot of money on that until just recently. I retired last year. 

Our family came down from L.A. to San Diego, we've been here ever since. I was ten years old and my brother was three. The greatest parents you could ever have. They had troubles but it was great. 

I learned to play the guitar with a set of about seven books in baby steps. I got some very old books on music that explain harmony and all the relations. Some guy put out a musical slide rule and he could figure out chords and everything, it was a lot of fun. That's how I got started in music, I started applying it making up the tunes I'd been doing in my mind all my life, and one thing led to another.

There were books on the market at that time that would give complete instructions to build a guitar. I figured out I could do it differently. I did buy a German made rosewood guitar that was gorgeous and then I thought it would be great to get one that's electric and use the electricity with recording which everybody was doing. I researched that and bought some real good pickups to go on the top, set them, and I built the darn thing. I built one to see if I could do it. I’ve still got it hanging on the wall or something. I really built it all the wrong way but it worked great so I said OK and built another one. That's the one I was using all the time.

Occult Concert

I love science. My brother is a scientist, a chemist. He went to university and got his degree then got an offer from the Navy he asked me about it and I said don’t take it. He didn't want to go to work anyway. I told him to take some time off and come with me, that’s how we got started. At the time I was starting to do my first album which was Occult Concert. My brother and I went up to L.A. to a recording studio and everybody was there. I’d never been in a recording studio because I was doing everything myself. So we went and I sat down and got through it in record time, nobody had ever seen anything like that before. My brother sat in the studio with everybody else and they just couldn't understand how I was playing the guitar. They couldn't believe it was just all guitar but it was. I like that album myself. The second that I liked real well is Guitar Grimoire and that's the first one that I did myself that wasn’t produced. He [Frankie Laine] said he wanted to do something for the kids. I wasn’t exactly a kid but he didn't know. 

I found some special guitar strings, I think they were called LaBella; they were regular strings wrapped in nylon all round so you could play them with your fingers and nails. I contacted the company and sent them a copy of the first record I had and offered to endorse them and they took me up on it and then they sent me a couple of cases with my picture on the back saying “These are the strings of the gods!” They were pretty good at promoting. That's what really got me going. Just observing, watching, understanding, not just trying to see but trying to understand.

People say I coulda been a contender like in the movies—I didn't even like the how I could have been a contender. If I‘d had a lot more records I could've made some money. Sure, I wanted to eventually be a success. I found out though, to be a success in popular music, you’ve got to be on the road all year long and I didn't like that. You have to have some prominence, some critic has to love you, and I didn't know how to do that. When I put out the first album, the record company didn't know how to sell it and I didn't know exactly how to sell it either so that didn't go anywhere. They didn't put it in the stores, they didn't give it the treatment, but that's pretty common. I sold records but it wasn't enough money to get anywhere to do anything much or to live on.

I did a lounge act. I went and set up all my equipment at the lounge and the people wouldn't even look at me. I know what was happening was like a strip club. Some drunk stumbled up, I forget when he wanted me to play, he said ‘Oh play so and so’ and I couldn't play it. So I apologized and said I kind of  just do my own stuff. He got a little mad and stumbled off. I did a couple of shows and the guy that hired me was happy to see me. I told him I had to go somewhere and he said OK so I bugged out. That was my last performance, I tried it and didn't like it. 

I did come up with something I like and that is making records and selling them. I was good at writing ads. The advertising copy on the albums was entirely up to me. I wrote everything. All the statements you've noticed on the backs of the records, all kinds of descriptions and sales pitches and everything else. The more people read the better, they like the album because they have some understanding of it. I sold music that no one had heard. All they did was read about it and they’d buy it and then they’d buy everything else you had. 

I thought well, I'd better take all the money we've made [from making music] and put it into this other thing I was very good at and it worked big time so I feel really lucky. I thought, well, I'll print a newsletter. The newsletter foretold the future and it worked really great. People would subscribe to it and they would stay with you for a lifetime. The circumstances of the world at that time were very very scary and unpredictable; nuclear war and the Soviet Union conflict. I was able to predict the collapse of the Soviet empire. I predicted everything that happened to the Soviet Union in '79 up to '89. In that ten year period I was predicting the collapse of it. They [the Russians] wrote that they wanted to subscribe.

The internet’s really peculiar. It was one of the things I didn't really foresee. I have foreseen some really great other things, but not computers and not the internet. I did see into the ways that it would destroy more than it has made. It destroys without replacing. That has been common throughout history, destruction without replacing. I had received a lot of predictions to do with the loss of privacy and becoming 1984 if you’ve ever heard of that old book. We are at 1984. In 1984 it was going on about television a lot. The television was watching you more than you were watching it. Guess what—the television is now watching everybody more than they are watching it. Everything we do or say, everything that can be put down electronically is going into big banks. They estimate that in two years they’re going to make about seventeen or more billion dollars a year selling information.

The occult side of music is very fascinating and very engrossing and it's pretty much true. You can attack it without being overtaken by it. You don't have to be a believer. There is no such thing as real witches and there is no such thing as real vampires, but there are people who do things and it does work. There are people who can actually predict cards and dice in a manner that overcomes limitations. Something that was impossible becomes possible. I've always said that if you don't live a life with miracles you're dead. Life is a miracle. It does not exist. They recently discovered that if the universe varied just the slightest bit, life would be impossible. So there’s a miracle.

Guitar Grimoire

Guitar Grimoire—every one of those tracks are a spell or a description of a situation where magic is being used. “Birth of a Witch”, “Raising the Pyramid of Power”, “Love Call”, “Fire Spell” and “Witch’s Will”. I could actually do a movie, when I did that I had a movie in mind. I could see the scenes in the movie and work them out and make music for the movie.

All modern movies are more or less operas. The one I liked the best was Star Wars. When they brought on Darth Vader, [John] Williams always had that Darth Vader music, when they were winning you knew they were winning. It does look like an opera, that's what made it really great. If you want to produce emotions in a human, use music. It’s a funny thing that sounds would affect humans and not affect animals in that way at all. Animals do not have a form of concepts and there's the sixth sense that everybody talks about and it's the sense of time, that's what makes humans different. They are not of the moment, they have a past, a present and a future. Those three dimensions of time are what makes them conscious. When you play music you hit the consciousness and it seems to be in sync to some extent with the various rhythms. A lot of occult stuff was due to music. You've heard of the music of the spheres? That’s an occult thing, seeing how the planets were moving and the rhythm of all that.

You may have heard about the hippies and how they loved witchcraft and all that sort of things, they called themselves Wicca. I knew all about it and I thought it was very interesting to write it and make it real because actually spells are willpower. All witchcraft magic is willpower. That's why the title of one of the songs on Grimoire is “Witch’s Will”. [Witchcraft] doesn’t have to be bad or good or anything else, it’s like driving a car. You can drive it into a bunch of people or you can drive it nicely. There’s great emotions involved in any mystical or religious belief, so they just fell into place. Emotions and willpower is the basis of most magic. It's not magic anyway, it's just something they don't yet understand. That’s why it's occult knowledge. Occult just means secret, secret knowledge. They used to have occult sections in the bookstores and they took them down. “Occult” was supposed to be a bad word. 

You're a witch if you know it or not. You are also a mathematician if you want to learn it. You have the power to learn that; you can't teach it to a bunny rabbit. I'm saying there's not a real witch like is spoken out in all the religions, there are witches, but not like the public or science fiction or horror shows show. On the other hand, everybody is a witch to some extent because you have fuzzy logic. You don't have to know everything to make an assumption. There's weird things happening and people avoid weird accidents all the time. They have a hunch and hunches are great. That’s being a witch, doing things that would be considered magical because there’s no explanation of it yet.

The occult is presented in allegory form and that's why the occult is so misunderstood—they won't look at it as you would look at an allegory. It’s unknown so we have to explain it this way. If you take it literally it doesn’t work.

Matthew Simonson is a radio producer and audio documentarian based in Denver, Colorado. His forthcoming podcast The Found Sound features the stories behind obscure records and the people who made them.