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JAMES BURTON AT 75


Ricky Nelson & James Burton; photographer unknown
On the occasion of James Burton's 75th birthday, here's my entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:



Burton, James [1939 - ]
James Burton was born in Minden, Louisiana on August 21, 1939, moved to Shreveport ten years later and became one of the defining stylists of electric rock’n’roll guitar, playing mainly a Fender Telecaster yet owning 200 other guitars. He worked his way through backing Slim Whitman and others on the Louisiana Hayride while still virtually a child, escaping into session work after playing a striking solo while still a young teenager on the 1957 Dale Hawkins hit ‘Suzie Q’. It was on RICKY NELSON’s records that he became widely noticed and admired, playing a series of discreet yet inventive, tantalisingly brief solos on Nelson’s big hits. It’s astonishing how short the instrumental breaks were on pop singles.
            In 1969 he was asked to back ELVIS PRESLEY on his return to live performance, and stayed in service through all the numbing, demeaning tours until Presley’s death, though he was never free to impose either his flair or his restraint on this overblown orchestral unit.
            His credentials were better respected on albums by Hoyt Axton, JUDY COLLINS, RY COODER and others, and on the Gram Parsons albums GP  and Grievous Angel. After Parsons’ death he was a member of EMMYLOU HARRIS’ Hot Band (between Elvis tours), touring and recording with her. He and the steel player Ralph Mooney made the duets album Corn Pickin’ And Slick Slidin’ in 1966 (CD-reissued in 2005), and five years later Burton made his only solo album, which suffered under the title The Guitar Sounds Of James Burton, the sort of name normally associated with albums by middle-of-the-road hacks, and catches Burton trying haplessly to look early-1970s hip, in one of the world’s nastiest shirts. This album was CD-reissued in 2001.
            James Burton’s connection with Dylan  -  aside from the mere rumor that Dylan had wanted Burton in his band when he first ‘went electric’ in 1965  -  is that when the Never-Ending Tour came through Shreveport on October 30, 1996, the veteran guitarist came on stage and played with Dylan and the band on five numbers: ‘Seeing The Real You At Last’, ‘She Belongs To Me’, ‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and the final encore item, ‘Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 & 35’.

[James Burton: The Guitar Sounds Of James Burton, A&M, US, 1971. James Burton & Ralph Mooney, Corn Pickin’ And Slick Slidin’, Capitol T 2872, US, 1966.]

1 comment:

  1. Despite all the morbidity surrounding early rock and roll (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Ricky Nelson, etc. -- all of them gone much too soon), it's heartening that "pioneers" like James Burton, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis are still with us. They helped start it all....they might not have done anything of note in decades, but hey, I'm glad they're still part of our universe.

    I marvel at some of Burton's work with Ricky Nelson -- particularly "Waitin' in School," "Believe What You Say," etc. That stuff had raunch and bite to it!

    And then there's this clip from the Ozzie and Harriet show -- charming and bizarre at the same time (is this what kids watched during the nuclear arms race?):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiuGGagp67Y

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