Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette

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Matt Wilson
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Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette

Postby Matt Wilson » 28 Feb 2015, 00:41

Johnny Burnette's career can be broken up into three distinct categories - the rockabilly era with the Rock 'n' Roll Trio, the early LA years when he and Dorsey were struggling songwriters in Los Angeles peddling their wares to the highest bidder (often Ricky Nelson), and finally, financial stability in the early sixties with both US and UK success with songs which ironically, he had no hand in writing. You could even say he had a fourth phase with the post-hit years where he was struggling to find a followup single but I prefer to think of that time as almost a coda to everything which went before.

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The Rock 'n' Roll Trio were majestic. No finer rockabilly exists. Sure, Presley set the template, Holly was always more successful and perhaps Vincent stayed the true-believer course longer than most, but it's the recordings made by Johnny, his brother, Dorsey and guitarist Paul Burlison (all Golden Gloves Boxing champs and all met in Memphis) which are the standard for fierce, ass-kicking rockabilly for fanatics the world over. This is the album you need if at all interested:

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It's almost all here - "The Train Kept a Rollin'" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQEGoSSya8s, "Honey Hush" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byr8J0DEa4Y, "Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfkvgiDWv6k, "Rock Billy Boogie" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuLE4BuaImc, "All By Myself" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qbDM6ikBOI, "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzl_2OlOoKU, and so much more. The LP is a powerhouse of fifties raunch and though rockabilly is a singles medium I can easily say it's the finest long player to devote itself to that music at that time.

Not every worthy cut the Trio recorded is here though, there were further singles and another album released in '69 which scooped up the rest. One positively needs "Tear it Up" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtBIjtUxn_0, "Midnight Train" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PeMLPti9d8, and "Rock Therapy" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMkBEpI6s7I.

When the Trio didn't take off, they disbanded - and the Burnette brothers moved to Los Angeles to be songwriters. During this time Johnny released an interesting one-off single which went nowhere, "Gumbo" b/w "Me and the Bear" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdPpWEsuTyE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R1gR8Vi2Ns. But otherwise, he sold songs to Ricky Nelson, like "Believe What You Say" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hPGcsFllM4, "It's Late" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBnhQ_wjkP8, and "Waitin' in School" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5DVkU78iJ8 This is the second phase of his career, the rockabilly-in-LA time when he recorded with Eddie Cochran and wrote demos that were never made into official studio recordings but still sound great. Like "Rockin' the Town" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxSWTbCMop8, "My Little Baby Come Rockin'" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEO8_kJOb4g, "Love Kept a Rollin" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxdDD6ZbA3o and dozens more. There's literally hours of this stuff on the Bear Family box.

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In 1961 success finally came - but at a price. "Dreamin'" was a big hit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnkjOHVK-H4, followed by "You're Sixteen" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7f6m9T9qgtk and a few others. But by that time he had given up on being a songwriter (or rather, his representation had given up on him) and it was decided that being a teen idol would pay better. He recorded songs by other songwriters and allowed strings and Hollywood production values to be addled on like syrup to virtually everything he recorded. It paid off for awhile too as even lesser tunes like "Little Boy Sad" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3tMbaIRDw8 and "Girls" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_ggCrf_uOo charted.

It wasn't all sickly sweet, as "Cincinnati Fireball" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkWBbbLgFTM and "Wish it Were Saturday Night (All Week Long) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GWm4k432bY show. Anyway, as with all the teeny bopper kings in the late fifties and early sixties, the reign didn't last long. Soon Johnny was off the charts and trying to get another hit. He was killed in 1964 in a boating accident on a lake in California, his rockabilly roots long since buried. But that's okay, we can rejoice in his early recordings and remember when rock and roll was king!
Last edited by Matt Wilson on 28 Feb 2015, 15:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby hookfinger » 28 Feb 2015, 01:41

Matt Wilson wrote:The Rock 'n' Roll Trio were majestic. No finer rockabilly exists.


A definitive statement and hard to rebuke. I remember it was some silly rockabilly band playing at some dive on dime beer night. The crowd thought they sucked. I was mesmerized. I asked them about rockabilly and Tear it Up was on a short list of lps I bought on my next visit to the big city. Life was changed.

Later I bought 78's from Paul Burlison from an ad in the back of Goldmine. Burlison also played with Rocky Burnette years later and I actually got to meet the man.
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby sloopjohnc » 28 Feb 2015, 04:19

hookfinger wrote: Later I bought 78's from Paul Burlison from an ad in the back of Goldmine. Burlison also played with Rocky Burnette years later and I actually got to meet the man.


I actually bought "Tired of Towing the Line," which I think he played on.
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby Moleskin » 28 Feb 2015, 09:30

I got one of those 8 albums on 4CD jobs from Real Gone Music and am still digging in, but the RnR Trio stuff is brilliant.
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby billy » 28 Feb 2015, 10:03

I've never gone beyond the trio, which I checked out after finding out it was Lennon's 'go to' record when he was living in Gambier Terrace.

The album is a joy to listen to -- never tire

This has the first album and mops up all the other essential tracks and can be found for pennies

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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby Rayge » 28 Feb 2015, 10:31

Excellent write-up, Matt. Would you retitle it as 'Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette', please?
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby der nister » 28 Feb 2015, 14:36

great Write up!

I remember us talking about the Bear Family Burnette box, I see you bought it.
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby Rayge » 28 Feb 2015, 14:42

I cannot agree that the Trio represents the best of rockabilly when Elvis Scotty & Bill are in the world, not to mention some of the real frantic fringe rockers. Certainly the best rockabilly album, but then again, how many were actually released?
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Re: Johnny Burnette

Postby 'skope » 28 Feb 2015, 15:28

Rayge wrote:I cannot agree that the Trio represents the best of rockabilly when Elvis Scotty & Bill are in the world


good call, rayge. i was going to say exactly the same thing about the hyperbole of the OP.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette

Postby Muskrat » 28 Feb 2015, 18:17

Dorsey was far more talented in any event -- though I guess Johnny was better looking.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette

Postby Matt Wilson » 28 Feb 2015, 21:19

Far more talented as a songwriter you mean?

Oh, and skope, you silly cunt, as far as Elvis being better than Burnette goes - you were just telling us all the other day how Eddie Cochran was the best white rocker of the fifties.
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Johnny Burnette

Postby Rayge » 15 Jan 2018, 19:00

bump
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