The opening guitar riff in the Black Pumas song “Colors” is the first thing that grabs many’s attention. Then the song breaks into a soul-funk anthem for the age.”Colors” put the Black Pumas on the map, but even they were surprised it scored a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.
“Wow. It’s crazy, man. Gotta pinch myself, man,” Black Pumas’ lead singer Eric Burton told “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason.
Just six years ago, Eric Burton was busking for money, singing that same song on the Santa Monica Pier in California.
“This has been an incredible journey,” Mason said to the group.
“You know, I knew it was gonna be something special. I really did,” said Adrian Quesada, the Black Pumas guitarist and producer. “We’re in another stratosphere beyond anything I would have imagined.”
Quesada, 43, and Burton, 30, formed the band four years ago in Austin, Texas, after a mutual friend connected them. Burton said the pair basically met over the phone.
“I only can imagine, like, what my girlfriend was thinking at the time in the backroom, listening to me sing to another man over the phone. But that’s pretty much how we came together,” he recalled.
Quesada said that once he heard Burton singing on the phone, he knew he had found “the guy” he needed and wanted to get Burton into the studio with him as soon as possible.
In their first session, Burton and Quesada recorded “Black Moon Rising.” Burton said he knew he had something special with Quesada the first time he got into the studio.
They put a band together and booked the Black Pumas into weekly gigs at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul in downtown Austin.
“I remember rockin’ out with Adrian coming up here, like, maybe like, a few songs in,” Burton said. “It was, like, ‘Know You Better’ or something. And Adrian would rock out, and I’d do my little pin drop, you know, bust down and get up again.”
The buzz around the Black Pumas built immediately. Before long, Steve Wertheimer, owner of C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, said the lines stretched for blocks.
“It was all the way down to where the Magnolia sign was,” Wertheimer pointed out.
The Black Pumas were an overnight sensation, but their sudden success was actually built on years of hard work. Quesada had been a mainstay in the Austin music scene, playing for 13 years with a Latin fusion collective called Grupo Fantasma.
“Learned everything I know about being in a band from being with those guys, yeah,” Quesada said.
Grupo Fantasma won a Grammy in 2011 for Best Latin Rock Album and legendary singer Prince even asked the group to be his backing band for a string of gigs.
“What was it like to play with Prince?” Mason asked.
“We were like a good high school basketball team and playing with Prince was like get on a flight and you’re in game seven of the NBA Finals the next day,” Quesada said. “He just had that kind of faith in us and it was just incredible. I just can’t even believe that it happened.”
Burton was living in South Central Los Angeles when he started busking on the Santa Monica Pier.
“I played for myself. I just bought a permit, and you know, as a busker, you would go down to the pier at the very beginning of the day to put your name in a fishbowl of names. And whoever got chosen for the 14 spots, I believe it is, got to work that day,” he recalled.
Burton had to spend several hours commuting, taking multiple buses. He said the travels made him who he is today.
“Most definitely, three buses and a couple of trains. It’d take me hours to get there, but it’s made me who I am, for sure,” he said.
Burton chased his musical dreams to Austin and busked there too on the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.
“Well, I actually have the amp that I had when I was busking. It’s the…” Burton said.
“That little PA amp?” Quesada asked.
“It’s the same amp,” Burton answered.
“Wow, man. It’s insane,” Quesada said.
“It’s a little cube… AA battery-powered. Had a microphone setup that I’d come out here on a skateboard with, you know, the tip jar and everything,” Burton said.
He had that same amp on him as the pair walked through the streets of Austin.
For old times’ sake, Burton and Quesada set up and busked. They quickly drew a crowd; fans followed the music from blocks away. Black Pumas are an Austin institution now, their debut album also up for a Grammy, for Album of The Year.
“When you look at the first record now, what do you hear?” Mason asked.
“The sound of that album, to me, if it were a visual, you’d see two hands shaking,” Burton replied. He said it’s just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“I think it’s already sounding like we know each other a little bit more. So for me, it feels like there’s no place, no place we can go but up,” Burton said. The 63rd GRAMMY Awards are airing Sunday, March 14, 2021, on CBS.