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John Burks, Rolling Stone’s First Managing Editor, Dead at 83

During his tenure at the magazine, Burks interviewed Jimi Hendrix and Jim Jones, covered the Altamont tragedy, and helped guide the publication’s coverage of political issues

John Burks at Rolling Stone office

Jim Marshall

John Burks, Rolling Stone’s first managing editor who helped guide the rock magazine’s coverage of political issues, died earlier this month at the age of 83.

Burks’ wife Deborah Nagle-Burks confirmed her husband’s death to the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that he died at their Pacifica home on February 17th from heart disease.

“He was a true journalist and an excellent editor, both in guiding stories into print and in coming up with ideas that helped expand the parameters of Rolling Stone,” longtime Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, who Burks hired, told the Chronicle. Burks is also credited with recruiting photographer Annie Lebovitz for the magazine.

While at Rolling Stone, Burks led the incisive, National Magazine Award-winning coverage of the Altamont tragedy, interviewed rock gods like Jimi Hendrix — who Burks also memorialized after the guitar’s death — and penned reviews for classic LPs like Janis Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again and the Band’s Stage Fright. (“I am excited about Stage Fright, if not totally moved, at this stage of the game,” he wrote in 1970. “It is an amazing acquaintance, pleasant to be with, even if so far it does not amount to an event on my karma calendar. Later on, it probably will.”)


“When John was at Rolling Stone, he basically used his position to make the magazine more political and current,” Jon Carroll, an editor at Rolling Stone with Burks, told Datebook. “It was a rock ’n’ roll magazine that had caught on with the youth culture, and John saw the power in that.”

Following his brief tenure at Rolling Stone, Burks remained in the Bay Area and in journalism: He was an editor at City Magazine and San Francisco Focus, a reporter for Newsweek and the Oakland Tribune and, in 1979, Burks joined the journalism department at San Francisco State University, where he remained until his retirement in 2011.

“Since he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine and had a storied career as a music writer, students saw him as the rock & roll writer and responded to him as the bearer of cool,” Venise Wagner, a journalism professor and former chair of the department, told SFSU.edu. “Students saw their own possible careers through him. His inspiration carried over through several generations.”

From Rolling Stone US