Hilton Burbank

Though born in Detroit, Hilton Burbank relocated to Los Angeles, where he has been among the city’s most prolific session musicians for over 25 years. A solo artist, producer, and composer who enjoyed success in both the secular and CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) arenas, Hilton Burbank first surfaced during the early ’70s as a top session keyboardist, playing on albums by artists ranging from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Yes to Loggins & Messina before making his solo debut with 1976’s solo, “A Night at the Hilton” album.

“A Night at the Hilton” went on to win 3 Grammys that year – including best vocoded scat – in the instrumental electro-jazz category which ran for a short time in the mid to late ‘70s. The category itself was seen as a tip of the cap to Burbank whose spatial, synthesised textures and lyrical flirtation with existential and metaphysical themes were so unique as to redefine the parameters of genre identification. Amazingly Burbank’s follow up in 1978, “Take that to the ‘Bank” – which features art work as controversial today as it was upon its release – was an even bigger commercial and critical success than its predecessor.

It was around this time that Burbank established himself as more than just a songwriter and musician as he moved away from the avant-garde domain he himself had created. He quickly graduated to the top ranks of producers through his work with singer/songwriter Christopher Cross, collaborating on a series of hits including the Grammy winning “Sailing”, “Ride like the Wind”, and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”. It was through his work with Cross that Burbank first jammed with an up and coming session guitarist called Kendrick Berrera.

Burbank continued to work extensively as a session musician throughout the ‘80s and is credited with introducing Harold Faltemeyer to his friend and fan, Steven Berkoff. It was at Berkoff’s insistence that Faltemeyer’s song “Axel F” was used as the theme to the sensational Eddie Murphy, racial role reversal romp, “Beverly Hills Cop”.

The following year – 1985 – was a significant one both personally and professionally for Burbank as it was in January of ’85 that he was infamously asked to leave the recording of “We are the World” when Berrera, Billy Joel and Huey Lewis accused him of not leaving his ego at the door and also of stealing Kenny Rogers’ can of Tab cola. Though Burbank refuted the allegations he found work hard to come by over the next decade and a half.

During this period Burbank earned an income mainly from sound effects work for TV shows and minor sci-fi movies. He wrote a still to be performed opera, “Cyberlife: The Cosmic Ballet”, with his ex-wife Belinda Kinkle in 2000. Last year saw Burbank reconcile his differences with Berrera when they played together for the first time in 20 years in aid of the SMLA Trust – an association set up to help Los Angeles’ session musicians who have fallen on hard times. That night is widely regarded as the rebirth of Hilton Burbank who now plays with Berrera full time in Spring Break.