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Chevy 6’s Ben Burford Loves Life in Childhood Home
By Donna Cornelius
As lead singer for Chevy 6, Ben Burford loves making audiences remember their lighthearted college days. Former sorority girls hear “With This Ring” and remember wishing for one of their own, while businessmen listen to “Shout” and think nostalgically of the time when their daily uniforms were Izod shirts and khakis instead of stuffy suits.
“People will tell us, ‘I feel so young when I hear you play,’ ” said Ben, who started the band as a University of Alabama senior in 1975.
Ben’s familiar with the comfort of happy memories. They’re around him every day in the house his father built.
“My dad, Frank, was an architect – and also an artist and singer,” Ben said. “He was from Ensley Highlands and designed every house he lived in.”
In 1948, Frank Burford built his first house in Vestavia Hills.
“That was before Vestavia was incorporated,” Ben said. After that, Frank bought a lot on Sunset Drive, right on the golf course of Vestavia County Club, for $5,000. Ben was born when his parents were living there.
“Dad was a Frank Lloyd Wright devotee, so the house is in that style,” he said. He and wife Jean moved into Ben’s childhood home five years ago, and he couldn’t be happier about the decision.
“I insisted on having this house,” he said.
He and Jean have filled the contemporary-style structure with art, most of it by Alabama artists. The collection is like Ben himself: colorful, bright and lots of fun.
Works by Nall, Mark Singer, Thornton Dial and Jimmy Lee Sudduth keep company with framed cartoon production cels and paintings by Ben himself. A portrait of former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy (let’s just say it’s straightforward about Scrushy’s misdeeds) and a whimsical Monopoly board painted on a table are by Studio By the Tracks artists. Ben’s a board member at the nonprofit organization that provides free art classes to special needs adults and emotionally conflicted children.
Family photos are prominently displayed, too.
Ben particularly treasures pictures of his beautiful mother Rosie, a singer who died when Ben was 8 years old, and one of his father with a band called “Bill Rollins and His Frollickers,” taken at the Birmingham airport.
“I heard music all the time, every single day,” Ben said. “I have to have music on now all the time. I come home and turn on my iPod.
“I like everything but country and rap. I love the oldies but like the new stuff, too.”
Although the house retains much of its original look, some changes have been made over the years. A former patio was enclosed to make a den, where you’ll find the stump of a hickory tree that once grew in the area.
Also in the den is a kidney-shaped coffee table crafted by Ben’s father.
“My dad made all the furniture, like Frank Lloyd Wright,” Ben said.
Jean’s father is represented, too, in the Danish modern sofa and chairs in the living area.
“It came from his orthodontist office,” Ben said. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Those who know Ben and his brash personality won’t be surprised that he’s up-front about his favorite addition to the house: a urinal in the master bedroom.
“When we redid the house, I just had to have it,” he said, adding that his prized possession is extremely practical.
“People say how remarkably clean our bathroom is, and I can go in there with my eyes closed and know right where it is.”
The Burford family includes two sons. Ben lives in Houston, where the Rice University graduate is a drama director and teacher at the Kincaid School. Frank, recently married to Wendy Walters, works for Pricewaterhouse in Atlanta. Like his father, he’s a graduate of the University of Alabama.
“Of course, both are absolutely brilliant,” said their father with a grin.
Chevy 6 has had a hectic schedule almost since the band’s inception in 1975.
“For years, we blanketed most of the Southeastern Conference,” Ben said. The group has performed in more distant locations, too, such as Beaver Creek, Colo., for the Young Presidents convention and at a huge estate in Providence, R.I., for a posh wedding.
“When the boys were growing up, I’d try to come home after every job to be there the next day,” Ben said. He’s quick to credit wife Jean, a Realtor with RealtySouth, for her support and good humor.
“I’m very fortunate because Jean didn’t complain, even though we’d play 18 to 20 times a month sometimes.
“Of course, I did give her the checks, so that helped.”
Just as Chevy 6 transports listeners to a carefree past, Ben’s house takes him back in time.
In the flagstone floors that his dad installed, “I can pick out shapes – a chicken, a penguin and a church. I saw them as a child and still see them.
“That’s weird, but comforting.”
Not at all weird is another heart-warming quality evoked by Ben’s childhood home.
“I feel my parents here every day,” he said.