Personalities | James Burton | Pickin’ Master | Guitar Heroes

Louisiana native James Burton (b. 1939) is one of several guitarists weaned on country music who parlayed his unique talent into session and tour work with rock musicians while maintaining his ties to the country community.

Burton first achieved local fame as a backing musician on the popular ‘Louisiana Hayride’ radio show, which spotlighted a young Elvis and rivalled ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ as a radio institution in 1950s America. In Louisiana, Burton got his first significant exposure with his guitar solo on the 1957 Dale Hawkins hit ‘Suzie Q’. Soon, Burton was in California, and his talents were deemed perfect for the sound of the emerging teen idol Ricky Nelson, whose family television show, ‘The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet’, was another American pop culture icon. Burton spent six years recording and touring with Ricky, even appearing on the TV show himself while establishing Nelson as a pop presence with distinctive guitar riffs on hits like ‘Hello Mary Lou’, ‘Lonesome Town’ and ‘Teenage Idol’.

Burton’s ‘chicken pickin’’ mastery on Dobro and guitar landed him studio gigs with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, The Monkees and Merle Haggard, as part of the legendary LA studio band known as The Wrecking Crew. Burton soon began an eight-year stint with Elvis’s TCB band, which lasted until the singer’s death in 1977. Almost immediately thereafter, Burton began a 16-year musical relationship with John Denver, again recording and touring with the singer up to his untimely death in 1997. Burton is unrivalled in his melding of country and rock guitar idioms and in his association with pop superstars (Nelson, Presley and Denver) whose lives ended tragically.

Burton was also part of the acclaimed Cinemax special, ‘Roy Orbison And Friends, A Black And White Night’. Beginning with King Of America (1987), Burton also recorded and toured with Elvis Costello for about a decade. Burton was elected to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001. He was elected to the Musicians Hall Of Fame in November 2007 as a member of The Wrecking Crew and has since collaborated with musicians including Brad Paisley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Essential Recordings

Dale Hawkins: ‘Susie Q’

Ricky Nelson: ‘Hello Mary Lou’

Elvis Presley: Moody Blue

John Denver: I Want To Live

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