Johnny Burnette

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Johnny Burnette
Johnny Burnette.png
Background information
Birth nameJohn Joseph Burnette
Born(1934-03-25)March 25, 1934
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
DiedAugust 14, 1964(1964-08-14) (aged 30)
Clear Lake, California, United States
Genres Rockabilly, rock and roll
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, acoustic guitar
Years active1952–1964
Labels Capitol, Charly, Sahara, Liberty
Johnny Burnette, "Lonesome Train", 1956

John Joseph "Johnny" Burnette (March 25, 1934 – August 14, 1964) was an American singer-songwriter of rockabilly and pop music. [1] In 1952, he and his older brother, Dorsey Burnette, and their friend Paul Burlison formed the band that later was known as the Rock and Roll Trio.

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered "classic" rock and roll. Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. The term "rockabilly" itself is a portmanteau of "rock" and "hillbilly", the latter a reference to the country music that contributed strongly to the style. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.

Dorsey Burnette was an American early rockabilly singer. With his younger brother Johnny Burnette and a friend named Paul Burlison, he was a founder member of The Rock and Roll Trio. He is also the father of country musician and Fleetwood Mac member Billy Burnette.

Paul Burlison American rockabilly guitarist

Paul Burlison was an American pioneer rockabilly guitarist and a founding member of The Rock and Roll Trio. Burlison was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, where he was exposed to music at an early age. After a stint in the United States Military, Burlison teamed up with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette to form The Rock and Roll Trio. The band released several singles, but failed to attain chart success. Paul is sometimes credited with being the first guitarist to intentionally record with a distorted electric guitar on the 1956 recordings, "Lonesome Train on a Lonesome Track" and "Honey Hush." The Trio disbanded in the fall of 1957 and Burlison moved back to Tennessee to start a family. There he started his own electrical subcontracting business which he ran faithfully for twenty years, taking a break when the Trio reunited in the early 1980s. He released his only solo album in 1997, which received positive reviews. Burlison remained active in the music scene until his death in 2003.


He is the father of the 1980s rockabilly singer Rocky Burnette.

Rocky Burnette is an American rock and roll singer/musician and the son of rock and roll musician Johnny Burnette. He is best known for his 1980 hit single "Tired of Toein' the Line" which he co-wrote with Ron Coleman, who formerly wrote, recorded and performed with the Brothers Grim and The Everly Brothers.

Early life

Johnny Burnette was born to Willie May and Dorsey Burnett Sr. in Memphis, Tennessee. (The "e" at the end of his name was added later.) Johnny grew up with his parents and Dorsey Jr. in a public housing project in the Lauderdale Courts area of Memphis, which from 1948 until 1954 was also the home of Gladys and Vernon Presley and their son, Elvis.[ citation needed ]

Memphis, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Memphis is a city located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Shelby County, Tennessee, United States. The 2017 city population was 652,236, making Memphis the largest city on the Mississippi River, the second most populous city in Tennessee, as well as the 25th largest city in the United States. Greater Memphis is the 42nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a population of 1,348,260 in 2017. The city is the anchor of West Tennessee and the greater Mid-South region, which includes portions of neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi. Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, the most populous county in Tennessee. As one of the most historic and cultural cities of the southern United States, the city features a wide variety of landscapes and distinct neighborhoods.

Elvis Presley American singer and actor

Elvis Aaron Presley, also known mononymously as Elvis, was an American singer, musician, and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King".

Johnny attended Blessed Sacrament School, and after graduating from the eighth grade he went to Catholic High School, in Memphis.[ citation needed ] (Early press reports, dating back to 1956, stated erroneously that Johnny attended Humes High School with Presley.[ citation needed ]) He showed an aptitude for sports, being on the school baseball team and playing linebacker on the football team. Both he and Dorsey were also keen amateur boxers and later became Golden Gloves champions. [1] After leaving high school, Burnette tried his hand at becoming a professional boxer, but after one fight with a sixty-dollar purse and a broken nose or an encounter with Norris Ray, a top paycheck of $150, he decided to quit boxing. He went to work on barges traversing the Mississippi River, where Dorsey also worked. Johnny worked mainly as a deck hand; Dorsey worked as an oiler. After work they would go back to Memphis and perform songs in local bars with a varying array of sidemen, including another former Golden Gloves champion, Paul Burlison, [1] whom Dorsey had met at an amateur boxing tournament in Memphis in 1949.

Golden Gloves Annual competitions for amateur boxing

The Golden Gloves is the name given to annual competitions for amateur boxing in the United States, where a small pair of golden boxing gloves are awarded. The Golden Gloves is a term used to refer to the National Golden Gloves competition, but can also represent several other amateur tournaments, including regional golden gloves tournaments and other notable tournaments such as the Intercity Golden Gloves, the Chicago Golden Gloves, and the New York Golden Gloves.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The Rock and Roll Trio

In 1952, the Burnette brothers and Burlison formed a group called the Rhythm Rangers. Johnny sang and played acoustic guitar, Dorsey played bass and Paul Burlison played lead guitar. For economic reasons, the three moved to New York in 1956 and managed to get an audition for Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour . [1] Winning the competition three times in a row gained them a place in the finals and a recording contract with Coral Records, and they renamed themselves the Rock and Roll Trio. They also gained a manager, the bandleader Henry Jerome, and a drummer, Tony Austin (a cousin of Carl Perkins).

Coral Records US record label; imprint of Coral Records, Inc.

Coral Records was a subsidiary of Decca Records that was formed in 1949. Coral released music by the McGuire Sisters, Teresa Brewer, and Buddy Holly.

The Rock and Roll Trio were an American rockabilly group formed in Memphis, Tennessee, during the 1950s. They were also known as "Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio" and the "Johnny Burnette Trio". The members of the Trio were Dorsey Burnette, his younger brother Johnny, and a friend Paul Burlison. Dorsey and Johnny Burnette were both natives of Memphis, having been born there in 1932 and 1934 respectively. Paul Burlison was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, in 1929, but moved to Memphis with his family in 1937.

Henry Jerome(néHenry Jerome Pasnik; November 12, 1917 in New York City – March 23, 2011 in Plantation, Florida) was an American big band leader, trumpeter, arranger, composer, and record company executive. Jerome formed his first dance band in 1932 in Norwich, Connecticut. His bands flourished throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Jerome went on to become A&R director at Decca Records in 1959 and A&R director for Coral Records, a Decca subsidiary, in the late 1960s.

Promotional appearances were arranged on Dick Clark's American Bandstand , Steve Allen's Tonight Show and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall , together with a summer tour with Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent. On Sunday September 9, 1956, they appeared as finalists in the Original Amateur Hour at Madison Square Garden. Despite this activity, the three singles they released over this period failed to make the national charts.

Dick Clark American radio and television personality

Richard Wagstaff Clark was an American radio and television personality, television producer and film actor, as well as a cultural icon who remains best known for hosting American Bandstand from 1957 to 1988. He also hosted the game show Pyramid and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, which transmitted Times Square's New Year's Eve celebrations. Clark was well known for his trademark sign-off, "For now, Dick Clark — so long!", accompanied by a facsimile of a military salute.

<i>American Bandstand</i> American music-performance show

American Bandstand is an American music-performance and dance television program that aired in various versions from 1952 to 1989, and was hosted from 1956 until its final season by Dick Clark, who also served as the program's producer. It featured teenagers dancing to Top 40 music introduced by Clark; at least one popular musical act—over the decades, running the gamut from Jerry Lee Lewis to Run–D.M.C.—would usually appear in person to lip-sync one of their latest singles. Freddy Cannon holds the record for most appearances, at 110.

Steve Allen American comedian, actor, musician and writer

Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen was an American television personality, radio personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, writer, and advocate of scientific skepticism. In 1954, he achieved national fame as the co-creator and first host of The Tonight Show, which was the first late night television talk show.

In order to cover their living expenses, the Trio was forced to go on the road, for what seemed to be an endless stream of one-night stands.[ citation needed ] This exhausting regime led to squabbles, which were exacerbated in Dorsey's case by Jerome's use of the name Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio on records and live dates. Things finally came to a head at a gig in Niagara Falls in autumn 1956, when, as a result of a fight, Dorsey quit the group a week before they were to appear in Alan Freed's film Rock, Rock, Rock.[ citation needed ]

Johnny Black, the brother of Elvis's bassist Bill Black, was rapidly recruited to fill Dorsey's place. Despite the film appearance and three more single releases and one LP release, the group failed to achieve any chart success. The Rock and Roll Trio disbanded in autumn 1957.[ citation needed ]

Success in California with Ricky Nelson

Now unemployed in Memphis, Burnette decided to try his luck in California. He and a friend, Joe Campbell, hitchhiked to the West Coast, where they joined Dorsey. With their past differences forgotten, the brothers attempted to resurrect the Rock and Roll Trio and sent for Paul Burlison. He joined them briefly but decided to return to Memphis and concentrate on his electrical business. Dorsey and Johnny continued with their songwriting, but Dorsey kept his day job as an electrician to pay the family expenses.[ citation needed ]

The Burnettes' brashness got them their first success in the music business in California. On arriving in Los Angeles, Joe Campbell bought a copy of "A Map to the Stars", which showed the location of the house of the teen idol Ricky Nelson. In an effort to get their songs to him, the Burnettes and Campbell decided to sit on the steps of his house until they could get a meeting with him. [2] [ citation needed ] Their persistence worked, and Nelson was sufficiently impressed with their work that he eventually recorded several of their songs, including "Believe What You Say", "It's Late", "Waitin' in School", and "Just a Little Too Much", amongst others. Other Imperial Records artists, such as Roy Brown, benefited from their songwriting. The success of his recording of the brothers' "Hip Shakin' Baby" led to a recording contract with Imperial Records as a duo. While in California, they met Doyle Holly, who played bass guitar for a short time with the band. Holly went on to become the bass player for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos and to record as a solo artist.

As the Burnette Brothers, they released one single, for Imperial, "Warm Love" backed with "My Honey" (Imperial X5509), on May 5, 1958. It did not make the charts. [1] After this failure, they continued to work together as songwriters but began to follow separate careers as performing artists. In 1961, however, Johnny and Dorsey released two instrumental singles, credited to the Texans, for two small labels, Infinity and Gothic: "Green Grass of Texas" backed with "Bloody River" (Infinity INX-001), released on February 20, 1961, and "Rockin' Johnny Home" backed with "Ole Reb" (Gothic GOX-001), released on May 29, 1961. Another instrumental, "Lonely Island" backed with"Green Hills" (Liberty 55460), credited to the Shamrocks, was released by Liberty Records on June 6, 1962. "Green Grass of Texas" and "Bloody River" were to be re-released in February 1965 on the Vee Jay label (VJ 658), again credited to the Texans.

Solo career

The Liberty years

In the fall of 1958, Johnny Burnette obtained a recording contract as a solo artist with Freedom Records, an offshoot of Liberty Records. He released three singles on this label: "Kiss Me" backed with "I'm Restless" (44001), released on September 11, 1958; "Gumbo" backed with "Me and the Bear" (44011), released on March 6, 1959; and "Sweet Baby Doll" backed with "I'll Never Love Again" (44017), released on June 24, 1959. All of these songs except "Sweet Baby Doll" were written by Burnette. None of these records were hits. [1]

In mid-1959, the Freedom label was shut down, and Burnette moved to the parent Liberty label, under the direction of the producer Snuff Garrett. Liberty had better promotional capabilities than Freedom, so that Johnny's singles for Liberty stood a greater chance of succeeding. His first two singles for Liberty, "Settin' the Woods on Fire" backed with "Kentucky Waltz" (Liberty F-55222), released on November 10, 1959, and "Patrick Henry" backed with "Don't Do It" (Liberty F-55243), released on March 4, 1960, sold well regionally but were not national hits. However, his third single, "Dreamin'" backed with "Cincinnati Fireball" (Liberty F-55285), released on May 4, 1960, reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 5 in Britain. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. [1]

His fourth Liberty single, "You're Sixteen" backed with "I Beg Your Pardon" (Liberty F-55285), released on October 5, 1960, did even better, reaching number 8 on the Hot 100 and number 3 in Britain and earned him another gold record. [1] Burnette went back into the studio and under Snuff Garrett's direction recorded "Little Boy Sad". This was released on January 3, 1961, backed with "(I Go) Down to the River" (Liberty F-55298). Shortly after its release, Burnette was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix, which kept him bedridden for several weeks. He was unable to undertake many personal appearances to promote the new record, and it reached only number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 12 in Britain. Frustrated by this prolonged inactivity he tried to return to work too early, and he promptly collapsed. This meant that his fifth Liberty single, "Big Big World" backed with "Ballad of the One Eyed Jacks" (Liberty F-55318), released on March 30, 1961, received no promotion at all and reached only number 58 on the Hot 100.

His sixth Liberty single, "I've Got a Lot of Things to Do" backed with "Girls" (Liberty F-55345), released June 14, 1961, was handled differently from his previous records. In Britain, the upbeat side, "Girls", was promoted as the topside and reached number 23 in the British charts in September 1961. In the United States it was flipped over with "I've Got a Lot of Things to Do" as the topside, but despite heavy promotion it failed to become a hit, peaking just outside the Hot 100 at number 109.

After recovering from his illness, Burnette returned to the road with a tour of Northern cities, culminating in a season at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, after which he undertook a tour of Australia with Connie Francis. Back in the limelight, his next release was scheduled to be a Carl Perkins song, "Fools Like Me", backed with "Honestly I Do" (Liberty 55377), but this was cancelled in favour of "God, Country and My Baby" backed with "Honestly I Do" (Liberty 55379), which was released on September 27, 1961. It reached number 18 on the Hot 100, but was to be Burnette's last major American hit.

In 1962, Burnette toured Britain for the first time, with Gary U.S. Bonds and Gene McDaniels, where he made an appearance on the New Musical Express Poll Winners' Concert and several TV appearances. His next single "Clown Shoes" backed with "The Way I Am" (Liberty 55416) was released on January 26, 1962, but it failed to make the US Hot 100. It was more successful in Britain, where it reached number 35. "Clown Shoes" was written by P. J. Proby.

Burnette had two more single releases on Liberty Records. These were "The Fool of the Year" backed with "The Poorest Boy in Town" (Liberty 55448), which was released on April 13, 1962 and "Damn the Defiant" backed with "Lonesome Waters" (Liberty 55489), which was released on July 30, 1962. Neither of these singles was a hit, but "Damn the Defiant", a Johnny Horton–style naval saga, was Burnette's first self-penned A-side for Liberty, It was also his last single for the label.

The Chancellor stint

Burnette moved to Chancellor Records, which had had success with teen idols like Fabian Forte and Frankie Avalon. Chancellor released three singles by Burnette in 1962: "I Wanna Thank Your Folks" backed with "The Giant" (Chancellor C-1116), "Tag Along" backed with "Party Girl" (Chancellor C-1123) and "Remember Me (I'm the One Who Loves You)" backed with "Time Is Not Enough" (Chancellor C-1129). None of these singles were hits.

The Capitol sessions

Burnette moved on from Chancellor, briefly joining Dorsey on Reprise Records for one single, "Hey Sue" backed with "It Don't Take Much" (20153), before signing a one-year contract with Capitol Records in the summer of 1963. Johnny's first recording session was held on July 23, 1963, at the Capitol Tower with Jim Economides and Jimmie Haskell overseeing the proceedings. A number of tracks were recorded: "It Isn't There", "Wish It Were Saturday Night", "I'll Give You Three Guesses", "All Week Long" and "Congratulations, You've Hurt Me Again". Of these "It Isn't There" backed with "Wish It Were Saturday Night" (Capitol 5023) were issued on August 19, 1963, as his first American single. In Britain, the flipside was changed to "All Week Long", but neither single made the charts. On December 13, 1963, a second session was held, with the same two men in charge. Four more songs were recorded, of which "The Opposite" backed with "You Taught Me the Way to Love You" (Capitol 5114) was released as a single on January 20, 1964. Again it failed to find chart success. A third session was held on February 14, 1964, which produced four songs: "Aunt Marie", "Two Feet in Front of Me", "If I Were An Artist", and "And Her Name Is Scarlett". None of these songs were deemed fit for release and remained in the can for thirty years. A fourth session was held on March 16, 1964, which was overseen by David Gates, who later went on to fame with the band Bread. This session produced "Sweet Suzie, I Think She Knows" and "It All Depends on Linda", which was written by Bobby Bare. Of these songs, "Sweet Suzie" backed with "Walkin' Talkin' Doll", which had been held back from the December 1963 session, were released as Capitol single (Capitol 5176) on April 5, 1964. This single also failed to make the charts.

Sahara and Magic Lamp labels

When his Capitol contract ran out, Burnette decided to take charge of his own affairs on his own terms. He formed his own label Sahara and in July 1964 released the single "Fountain of Love" backed with "What a Summer Day" (Sahara 512). When he was informed that the name Sahara had already been taken, he renamed the label Magic Lamp and a different single, "Bigger Man" backed with "Less Than a Heartbeat" (Magic Lamp 515) was released.


On August 14, 1964, Burnette's unlit fishing boat was struck by an unaware cabin cruiser on Clear Lake, California. The impact threw him off the boat, and he drowned. [3] When he received the news, Dorsey Burnette called Paul Burlison, who flew out to comfort him and attend Johnny's funeral. The two men were to keep in touch until Dorsey's death of a heart attack in 1979. Johnny Burnette is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, near his brother and their parents in Ascension, Lot 8276, Space 4. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]


Burnette gained prominence in 1973 both for the inclusion of "You're Sixteen" on the American Graffiti soundtrack and for Ringo Starr's version of the same song. In addition, Burnette's original song was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. [10] One of his songs, "Train Kept A-Rollin'" by Tiny Bradshaw, would later be recorded by the Yardbirds, Motörhead and Aerosmith.

The Beatles, with John Lennon on vocal, performed "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes" at the BBC on July 10, 1963 for broadcast airing on July 23, 1963. During the airing Lennon introduced the song, originally recorded by Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n Roll Trio on July 3, 1956 and released in March 1957, joking, "This is a Dorsey Burnette number, brother of Johnny Burnette, called 'Lonesome Tears in My Eyes', recorded on their very first LP in 1822!" This live in-studio recording of 'Lonesome Tears in My Eyes' (including Lennon's spoken intro) was later included on the Beatles' 1994 two-CD set, Live at the BBC .

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Johnny Burnette among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [11]


My brother Dorsey and I first got to know Elvis Presley when he went to Humes High and we went to the Catholic High... Elvis would tote his guitar on his back when he rode past on his motor-cycle on his way to school. He would see us and always wave.

NME , February 1961 [12]



YearAlbum Record label
1957Rock 'n Roll TrioCoral Records
1960Dreamin' Liberty Records
1961Johnny Burnette
1962Roses Are Red
Johnny Burnette's Hits and Other Favorites
2004The Complete Recordings 1955–1964 Bear Family Records


Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n' Roll Trio

YearTitlePeak chart positions Record label B-side
1956"Tear It Up"Coral Records"You're Undecided"

The Johnny Burnette Trio

YearTitlePeak chart positions Record label B-side Album
1956"Oh Baby Babe"Coral Records"Midnight Train"
"The Train Kept a-Rollin'""Honey Hush"Rock 'n Roll Trio
1957"Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)""I Just Found Out"

Johnny Burnette

YearTitlePeak chart positions Record label B-side Album
1955"You're Undecided"Von Records"Go Mule Go"
1957"Eager Beaver Baby"Coral Records"Touch Me"
"Butterfingers""Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee, Drinking Wine"
"Rock Billy Boogie""If You Want It Enough"
1958"Kiss Me" Freedom Records "I'm Restless"
1959"Me and the Bear""Gumbo"
"I'll Never Love Again""Sweet Baby Doll"
"Settin' the Woods on Fire" Liberty Records "Kentucky Waltz"Dreamin'
1960"Patrick Henry""Don't Do It"
"Dreamin'"115"Cincinnati Fireball"Dreamin'
"You're Sixteen"83"I Beg Your Pardon"Johnny Burnette
1961"Little Boy Sad"1712"(I Go) Down to the River"Sings
"Big Big World"58"Ballad of the One Eyed Jacks"
"Girls"37"I've Got a Lot of Things to Do" (#109 BB)Roses Are Red
"Fools Like Me""Honestly I Do"
"God, Country and My Baby"18"Honestly I Do"Johnny Burnette's Hits and Other Favorites
1962"Clown Shoes"11335"The Way I Am"Roses Are Red
"The Fool of the Year"11335"The Poorest Boy in Town"
"I Wanna Thank Your Folks"117 Chancellor Records "The Giant"
"Damn the Defiant"Liberty Records"Lonesome Waters"
"Tag-Along"Chancellor Records"Party Girl"
"(Remember Me) I'm the One Who Loves You""Time is Not Enough"
1963"It Isn't There" Capitol Records "(Wish It Were Saturday Night) All Week Long"
1964"You Taught Me the Way to Love You""The Opposite"
"Sweet Suzie""Walkin', Talkin' Doll"
"What a Summer Day"Sahara Records"Fountain of Love"
"Bigger Man"Magic Lamp Records"Less Than a Heartbeat"

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 136. ISBN   0-214-20512-6.
  2. "Johnny Burnette" by Helen Bolstad, TV Radio Mirror, June 1961, p. 69-70. Describes how Johnny and Dorsey Burnette met Ricky Nelson.
  3. "The Burnettes". Retrieved December 25, 2015.
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  5. "Dorsey Burnette (1932–1979)". Find a Grave . Retrieved August 12, 2016.
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Other sources