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James Burton

  • 🇺🇸 Dubberly, LA
  • Years Active
    1952 - Now
Telecaster master James Burton is the quintessential sideman. The guitarist's legacy spans more than half a century, and encompasses stints behind many of the most celebrated artists of the rock and roll era, including Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

Louisiana-born Burton turned professional at age 14, when he joined the house band on Shreveport radio station KWKH's live country music showcase Louisiana Hayride. When swamp-boogie innovator Dale Hawkins cut his rockabilly classic "Susie Q" at KWKH, Burton was on hand to provide the song's indelibly sinuous riff and blistering solo: the single climbed to number seven on Billboard's Hot R&B Sides chart and number 27 on the Hot 100, going on to inspire covers by the Rolling Stones, Johnny Rivers and, most famously, Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose version soared to number 11 in Billboard in late 1968. "Susie Q" was subsequently enshrined as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's roll call of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll."

Burton rose to greater renown behind Ricky Nelson, the teen star of the long-running ABC family sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. When Nelson launched a recording career, he invited Burton to appear on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as his backing guitarist, and Burton ended up co-starring in no fewer than 61 episodes of the series, even living with the Nelson family in their Los Angeles home for the better part of the next two years. While playing with Nelson, Burton developed his signature "chickin' pickin'" style: while he continued to use a straight pick and a fingerpick on his middle finger, he replaced his Telecaster's first four strings with banjo strings, at the same time moving the A and D strings up to D and E, giving him greater flexibility to bend notes.

Burton joined ABC's musical variety series Shindig! in 1965 and became a sought-after session player alongside fellow members of the loose coterie of session superstars retrospectively known as the Wrecking Crew. In 1969, Presley asked him to join his upcoming residency at Las Vegas' International Hotel, and this time, the guitarist accepted, organizing Presley's TCB Band and serving as its leader until The King's death in 1977. When Presley was too ill to attend a 1971 recording session, Burton filled the studio time by cutting a solo LP, The Guitar Sounds of James Burton, highlighted by an instrumental version of Tony Joe White's hit "Polk Salad Annie," a staple of Presley's Vegas repertoire. Burton later collaborated with John Denver, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Costello and countless others.

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