Johnny Burnette

TrackSingle / Album
Tear It UpCoral 9-61651
You're UndecidedCoral 9-61651
The Train Kept A-Rollin'Coral 9-61719
Honey HushCoral 9-61719
Lonesome TrainCoral 9-61758
Sweet Love On My MindRock 'N Roll Trio
Lonesome Tears In My EyesRock 'N Roll Trio
All By MyselfRock 'N Roll Trio
Warm LoveImperial X5509
Dreamin'Liberty F-55285

Johnny Burnette photo 1


Johnny Burnette playlist


Johnny Burnette photo 2

Rock ‘n Roll Trio (l to r): Paul Burlison, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette


Contributor: Dave Stephens

Three facts about Johnny Burnette and the Johnny Burnette Trio that a lot of people aren’t aware of:

1. Lead guitarist Paul Burlison had a habit of popping his lit cigarette on a protruding string at the non business end of his instrument. At an early gig, Johnny backed into it and let out one hell of a scream. You can guess the rest: it was so good that they kept it in the show and, yes, it appeared on the records.

2. It was assumed for years that the same Paul Burlison played lead on the Burnette Trio records. That wasn’t necessarily the case. Member of the Nashville A Team, Grady Martin, was the man responsible for the scintillating lead work on the bulk of those records.

3. A very high percentage – easily in the nineties – of those people who bought Johnny Burnette singles like Dreamin’ and Little Boy Sad in the early sixties would have been totally unaware of the existence of the Burnette Trio rockabilly recordings only five years or so earlier.

I wasn’t one of those who bought the Burnette solo singles at the time but I enjoyed them on the radio and was oblivious to the man’s pioneering role in the world of rockabilly. For me, fifties rock and roll had seemingly (and most regrettably) run its course round about the end of the decade with the Eddie Cochran car crash in April 1960 contributing the final nail to the coffin.

I still listened to Luxembourg but records which really caught my attention had a little more about them than the average teen fare. On his solo singles Johnny came across like a slightly tougher Bobby Darin though he didn’t have the chameleon like ability of said Mr Darin to chop and change between musical genres, hence giving the pop picker of the day something to talk about to his or her mates which probably necessitated spending money on said records. Johnny’s fifteen minutes of fame lasted not much more than a year in the UK and a little more in the US because they bought his last serious hit, God, Country And My Baby while we didn’t.

Indeed Johnny’s name had already been forgotten by the time the Brit Invasion to the States kicked most other US artists into the long grass. I don’t even recall Johnny’s death from drowning in August 1964 being reported in the UK press. He was fishing at night in Clear Lake, California and his unlit boat was crashed into by another boat, Johnny was tragically knocked unconscious and fell into the water.

And that would have been it but in 1966, UK Decca took it into their collective head(s) to reissue the sole LP by the Burnette Trio from the Coral days, Rock ˈN Roll Trio. Date-wise, this was just short of a decade since the album was first released. The rereleased set very quickly became a must-have for all true fifties rock fans; so much so that I’d even use that much abused word ‘iconic’ about it. In terms of influence, this was the spark which ignited the seventies rockabilly boom wherein crackly US singles, which had been reaching colossal amounts at auction, started to appear with (relatively) pristine sound in LP format. My own musical tastes were totally elsewhere in ’66 and I didn’t pick up the album until its rerelease (in 1970) but as soon as it was in my clutches I was right back into that rock and roll thing.

Johnny and the boys had but three sessions with Coral spread across May and July 1956 with the last held in March ’57. The middle one which commenced on 2nd July and lasted for a mammoth four days was the most productive in terms of quantity – 16 numbers were cut with the aim of having enough for an LP plus singles – and possibly quality too. While some might call it a subjective measure, what is undeniable to me is that one of the greatest rockabilly records ever, The Train Kept A-Rollin’ was laid down on 2nd July by Johnny and his band. But it’s at this juncture I should state that the “and his band” doesn’t give the full or correct picture. Unlike their first session which was held in Decca’s studio in New York (the splendidly named Pythian Temple), for this one they travelled to Nashville to come under the watchful eyes of Owen Bradley. The latter was noted for using Music City session guys – usually referred to as The A Team – rather than artists’ regular band members and what he said, went. For Johnny’s July session(s), either Buddy Harman or Farris Coursey on drums, Bob Moore on bass and Grady Martin on lead guitar were utilised.

The astute reader will have figured out that Johnny and the boys are actually playing a different song in the clip; the really telling bit is that, in his solo, Paul Burlison’s left hand is well up the fretboard of his guitar on the low notes and at the neck for the high ones. No matter, it’s still great to see the boys live (and for the real song being played, see Footnotes). The song itself which originated with black singer and band leader, Tiny Bradshaw back in 1951, featured the type of double entendre lyrics often found in numbers from jump blues singers from that time frame. Apparently, Burlison turned up to the studio with the jerky sounding riff worked out in his head – it didn’t come from the Bradshaw record – and it’s that that has caused some to believe that he, not Martin, did take the lead on this number. For full rhyme and reason on the subject try this very informative piece from Vince Gordon and Peter Dijkema.

Very much the same rhythmic approach was deployed on Honey Hush recorded the following day. For this little baby the sound was even starker with that riff well up in the mix and dominating the record. This time the source was Big Joe Turner who’d taken his record to the number one spot in the nation’s R&B Chart in 1953. Joe was the man who was responsible for the famous repeated “Hi-yo, hi-yo Silver” lines which appear towards the end of the song. The pairing of The Train Kept A-Rollin’ and Honey Hush was released as Coral single #3 from the Johnny Burnette Trio, forming one of the greatest double-siders in the whole of fifties rock and roll. Not that anyone seemed to notice at the time.

Discussion on the qualities of The Train Kept A-Rollin’ and Honey Hush would be incomplete without reference to the tracks Johnny and the boys recorded at their first Coral Records session. Putting the first song, Shattered Dreams to one side – see Footnotes – the other four consisted of Midnight Train (a pop country ditty with brother Dorsey Burnette on lead vocal), You’re Undecided, Tear It Up and Oh Baby Babe. The three with Johnny on vocal owed a clear debt to the Presley Sun singles with the last named making that influence doubly so since it was little more than a straight crib of El’s Baby Let’s Play House. That said, the tracks were very capably performed and Johnny didn’t rely so heavily on the Presley tropes that the performances became little more than pastiche. Tear It Up (as in dancefloor) was along the lines of the usual dance celebration, with only limited hints of the blues man’s usual double entendre but with the twist that the singer was leaving “for a long long time”. Sonically It flowed well with Johnny chucking in several yelps to keep the momentum going and Paul easing into a boogie on the chorus in a way that sounded totally inevitable and utterly unforced.

You’re Undecided was rather different. A slow to medium bluesy affair with Johnny’s voice taking on chunks of anguish and urgency that give the whole thing an air of rather pleasing melodrama. What’s also remarkable about the performance is the way it differs so much from the boys’ first take on the song, cut only six months earlier for the tiny Von Records out of Booneville, Mississippi. Chalk and cheese hardly gets close; the original take comes across as an innocuous but pleasing piece of country fluff. It’s noticeable that the first shows Dorsey Burnette as the author while the second has all three boys credited. Whether this was in recognition of new ideas contributed by Paul and Johnny, or it was actually a more accurate representation of who did what on the original, we don’t know but it’s fascinating to imagine a studio alive with opinions flashing to and fro. ˈTwas this pairing of songs which made up the Trio’s first Coral single while Oh Baby Babe and Midnight Train formed single #2.

Apart from the rather tinny sound on Paul Burlison’s guitar in the May session, for which we are informed producer Bob Thiele was responsible, the key differences between the first and the second studio visits (plural for the second), was that the urgency present in Johnny’s voice in You’re Undecided permeated the July sessions. On top of that, Grady Martin made strong and very effective attempts to match that urgency via his guitar. The result was more in-your-face rockabilly than that emanating from Elvis would-be’s anywhere else. While there’s an argument that the boys had been influenced by Presley’s aggressive approach on Hound Dog, that record didn’t see release until 13th July 1956 (source: 45cat) i.e. after the Trio’s July session dates. It’s possible however, that Johnny & co had heard the version of Hound Dog from Freddie Bell and the Bellboys which speeded the song up from the Big Mama Thornton original and increased the bellicosity level even if the instrumentation was totally different.

That urgency is even present on the boys’ version of the Delmore Brothers classic blues Stay Away From Me. Dorsey takes the lead on this, backed up strongly by Johnny with the pair vying for attention in the final verse. This one almost made the cut and perhaps it was merely the fact that Dorsey was up front that stayed my hand.

At this stage in their respective careers, Johnny and Dorsey weren’t producing songs at a fast enough rate to meet the demands of the record label which, as already stated, was trying to get an LP out of them and as quickly as possible. Consequently, they dipped into black sources – this time, Fats Domino – for a couple of numbers, Please Don’t Leave Me and All By Myself. They might have been relatively little-known numbers in the Domino songbook but the great man didn’t make bad records. Both received the full July Nashville makeover with the second emerging as almost a new song. (For comparison, this is the Domino original).

Prolific hillbilly cum rockabilly songwriter Wayne Walker was the source for the boys’ Sweet Love On My Mind and, while the title and the catchy opening line might have suggested a somewhat softer form of rock, this was only partially true and thematically not true at all since she was set to go but he was increasingly desperate that this wouldn’t happen. It closed with the lines:

When the mailman comes in the morning, there’s a note upon my door
Just bring my mail to the bottom of the river, I don’t live here no more
I’m a man who’s got nothing but sweet love on my mind

Lonesome Tears In My Eyes ploughed a similar vein only this time the song was unashamedly poppy but with hints of country – note the melismatic touch of near yodel round about the one minute mark – with Grady Martin opting for the usage of staccato dampened strings to create an ear-catching intro. That same sound popped up a few years later (only from violins) on Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and Adam Faith almost managed to build a career out of it. The track, which this time was written by the full trio plus Al Mortimer (see Footnotes), was easily the best song the lads had produced to date and with hindsight one does wonder why Coral tucked it away on the LP rather than giving it single release. With full plugging such a record could have given the boys a career path not unlike the same Mr Holly who himself had started out in country, switching to rockabilly and then moving on to more mainstream music but without losing sight of his origins.

It’s back to straight down the line rockabilly for my final cut from the second of the Nashville sessions. The track is Lonesome Train, which often appears in listings with the bracketed words (On A Lonesome Track) after it, though according to 45cat it was the two word title that was present on the single. We’re lucky in this instance to have a live(ish) take of the boys performing the number, due to its/their presence in the film Rock, Rock, Rock! The song wasn’t actually performed since the ‘performers’ were actually lip synching but that doesn’t detract too much from a rare sighting of Johnny and the Trio:

The gent on the right in the clip playing the stand-up bass isn’t Dorsey Burnette. He’d left the Trio shortly before the filming and we’re informed by a helpful contributor to 45cat that the stand-in was Johnny Black, younger brother of Elvis Presley’s bassist, Bill Black. The Dorsey flit came prior to the third Burnette Coral session leaving Johnny as the sole member of the Trio left in the studio (with the Burlison role having been ‘usurped’ by Grady Martin).

Whether Coral were consciously making marketing decisions and conveying them via labelling – the boys’ billing on singles had already changed from “Johnny Burnette And The Rock ‘N’ Roll Trio” to “The Johnny Burnette Trio” – we don’t know, but the one and two halves of singles which emerged from the final session were billed to “Johnny Burnette” only. Of course this could be just the rambling/paranoia of a rock’n’roll fan who sees the music establishment attempting to return to the culture with which it was comfortable, which activities commenced almost as soon as the eruptions of ‘new music’ started to happen.

The four tracks cut on 22nd March 1957 were softer. Not by a vast amount, but the difference was clearly discernible. Explicit traces of country and blues had been toned back. A vocal chorus appeared on every track; this wasn’t totally new in that such an addition had appeared on a few of the July tracks. Eager Beaver Baby was the closest to rockabilly and probably the best of the bunch, boasting more fine guitar work from Grady Martin. Johnny was on form – as indeed he was on all four tracks – but the record was lacking in that elusive quality of edge.

The wilderness years i.e. those between near fame and real, albeit temporary, fame for Johnny, produced a handful of records, one of which was a near gem. In February ’58, the reunited Burnette Brothers cut four tracks in Hollywood. Two of these saw release by Imperial, the tracks being Warm Love and My Honey. The A-side was a little beauty propelled by some near manic guitar work from Joe Maphis. Yes there were obvious debts to both the Everly Brothers and Holly but there was still room for another disc in this style in the charts. I can only presume it didn’t get adequate plugging in the US. It might have found more willing buyers on this side of the pond but London, then distributing Imperial, didn’t release it.

Three singles by a solo Johnny Burnette were released on the Freedom label, Freedom being a subsidiary of Liberty, but although several of these featured songs from the man himself, and there were members of LA/Hollywood session royalty present on some (including Joe Maphis, Plas Johnson, Connie “Guybo” Smith and Earl Palmer), none of them were particularly memorable. Once again these weren’t issued in the UK (although London were releasing Eddie Cochran records on Liberty from April ’57 onwards).

Due to the closure of Freedom in late 1959, Johnny was moved to the parent label and, after a couple of false starts, the hits started flowing. That’s maybe a slight exaggeration but three hits certainly flowed with one making the US top ten and the others, the twenty. In the UK he did even better with two hitting the ten and the last almost getting there. The records that achieved these feats were Dreamin’, You’re Sixteen and Little Boy Sad (though I should add that he hit the twenty again in the US a few months later with God, Country And My Baby). All three were outright pop and strings saturated to boot i.e. the kind of thing that was anathema to true rockabilly fans. But I have to confess that I kind of liked these at the time and, with some qualifications, still do (those qualifications centre round the fact that Johnny was trying a little too hard to be a pop star at times e.g. via the unnecessary croaking on Little Boy Sad which was probably a steal from Conway Twitty).

I felt that this post wouldn’t be complete without some representation from Johnny’s hit period so I’ve made his breakthrough disc Dreamin’ my final selection. While I normally abhor the use of strings on fifties and sixties pop records, on this track they’re so integral to the whole concept of the arrangement that they vie with Burnette himself as the main attraction. I’d even go further and say that the strings make the record; without them it might have been little more than yet another run through the good old doo wop progression. That’s unfair. Johnny’s manic positivism about the future – “till my dreaming comes true” – deserves high marks too.

The man responsible for the production and, by implication, the arrangement on Dreamin’ was Tommy “Snuff” Garrett. He was the mastermind behind all the Burnette Liberty records and would have been only 21 when he occupied the control booth for JB’s first session for the label. That session produced single #1, Settin’ The Woods On Fire – note the upfront string section already in place. Such instrumentation was still relatively new in pop – the posthumous singles from Buddy Holly which featured violins had only appeared from February onwards that same year – but Garrett had a vision and he started as he meant to go on. I guess you could say that, while he wasn’t the first to use string sections on what was basically teen pop style music, he took the whole approach forward making the backing an integral part of his productions. To put it another way, he wasn’t quite a pioneer but was a near pioneer.

I don’t believe I would be pushing parallels to say that the Johnny Burnette Trio (both with and without Grady Martin) were also pushing boundaries or being near pioneers, in the way that they expanded the basic template for rockabilly laid down by Elvis, Scotty and Bill, by incorporating a higher level of urgency/aggression from both singer and musicians and producing a sound that would resonate with musicians half a decade or so later.

Or is that total nonsense (even if the bit about the Yardbirds is totally correct)? No matter, Johnny & the guys succeeded in leaving us with a body of rockabilly music to treasure. And who knows, but for the tragedy of Clear Lake, Johnny might have come back yet again.




1. I came across the “Scream Story” in the Rubber City Review piece on the Burnette Trio. To back up his usage of the anecdote, the writer states that it can be found in Colin Escott’s sleeve notes to Rockabilly Boogie, the Bear Family single CD compilation of the band’s 1956-1957 recordings.

2. The usage of Grady Martin on lead guitar on the second and third Burnette Trio sessions is documented on two sessionographies: the first from Praguefrank and the second based on Marc Alesina’s researches is here and it covers the full careers of both Burnette brothers. The second site is very explicit about the Martin role: on the 2nd of July 1956 (the first of the July “suite” of sessions) when The Train Kept A-Rollin’ was cut, Burlison is shown as being present but on “second elec. guitar” while Martin is on “first elec. guitar”. For 3rd July, the same applies and on the 4th and 5th Burlison isn’t even present.

3. (Thomas) Grady Martin wasn’t just any old session man. He appeared on records from Marty Robbins (including the one everyone remembers, El Paso), Patsy Cline (Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight and many more), Brenda Lee (I’m Sorry and more), Ray Price (For The Good Times etc.), Johnny Horton (loads including Battle Of New Orleans) and many more. In the eighties, Martin worked as lead guitar in Willie Nelson’s road band for several years.

Of possibly more relevance to his role providing studio support to one J. Burnette, Martin supplied something similar to other budding (or hopefully budding) rockabilly heroes like Autrey Inman and Don Woody plus, of course, Johnny Horton. He was also the man who Owen Bradley put forward for the Buddy Holly Decca recordings like Rock Around With Ollie Vee (that’s the take usually referred to as the ‘sax version’ as opposed to the one with Sonny Curtis on lead). A good impression of Grady’s backing work in the fifties can be gleaned from a listen to Roughneck Blues (1949-1956). The album contains a couple of tracks from black blues singer, Cecil Gant. Don’t You Worry from Cecil features Grady showing off his blues/jazz chops as far back as 1951.

Grady Martin is also the man who accidentally stumbled on fuzz guitar via a fault in the mixing console. Listen out for his solo which appears after the middle eight in Marty Robbins’ Don’t Worry in 1961. The producer liked it so it was decided to keep it in.

4. I’ve commented elsewhere on the surprisingly small number of rockabilly records that made the charts. Much of the reason for this was the relatively small amount of rockabilly discs that saw US national and international release. The Presley Sun singles were rereleased by RCA Victor in December 1955 but didn’t register in the charts, nor did they see release in the UK. We didn’t get to hear those singles until they were packaged by RCA into two compilations, For LP Fans Only and A Date With Elvis in 1959. There were rockabilly or near rockabilly tracks on El’s first two RCA studio albums but dyed-in-the-wool rockabilly fans would argue that, with the occasional exception, they were inferior to the Sun tracks. Elsewhere we got the Carl Perkins singles and a few from Gene Vincent until he largely moved away from rockabilly, though Capitol did include such numbers (and good ones at that) on Gene’s first two LPs but that was about it. In the UK we didn’t get to hear Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley, Sleepy LaBeef, Janis Martin, Charlie Feathers and a whole load more for half a decade or maybe more. Such a situation is unimaginable now where word of mouth can lead to live tracks appearing on the internet even before records appear (and some artists don’t even bother to go through ‘old fashioned’ routes to reach and grow their public).

5. The Johnny Burnette And The Rock ‘N Roll Trio album was initially released as a 10 inch LP on Coral in the US and Vogue Coral in the UK, in 1956. It was then rereleased in the UK in 1966 on Decca’s Ace Of Hearts budget label with the title changed to The Rock ‘N Roll Trio. The 1970 UK rerelease (on Coral) expanded it to 12 inch format. I am grateful to André Landgraf for this information which corrects the error in my original footnote – please see his Comment for more detail.

6. In terms of UK single releases, three Burnette Trio Coral singles were issued (on the Vogue or Vogue Coral label, this being an offshoot of the French Disques Vogue label which got absorbed into UK Decca), the Imperial single attributed to the Burnette Brothers wasn’t issued, none of the Freedom label singles were issued and the first 2 Liberty singles weren’t issued i.e. Dreamin’ was the first solo Johnny Burnette single to be released in the UK (on London). I’m unaware of the Burnette Trio records getting any plugging (and by 1957 I was an avid Radio Luxembourg listener).

7. John Joseph “Johnny” Burnette, born on 25th March 1934, and his older brother Dorsey were Memphis natives. After an initial period attempting to earn their living on the professional boxing circuit, both brothers returned to Memphis and got jobs at the Crown Electric Company alongside another Memphis resident, Elvis Presley. Another employee of the company was guitarist Paul Burlison. The two brothers and Paul formed a band with Johnny on rhythm guitar and vocals, Dorsey on bass and Paul on lead.

They auditioned for Sam Phillips and, unusually, failed. Reportedly, Sam thought they sounded too much like another of his signings, guess who! They cut a single, You’re Undecided / Go Mule Go for Von Records from Mississippi but it attracted no notice. Undeterred the trio headed for the bright lights of New York. After plenty of scrabbling around they entered the Ted Mack Amateur Hour which was televised. Winning the competition got them a contract with Coral Records.

According to the BlackCat Rockabilly feature on Burnette, when the boys arrived in the New York studio for their first session, “they found a 32-piece orchestra waiting in the studio, directed by Dick Jacobs”. They went ahead and cut the first song, Shattered Dreams, a sort of rock-a-ballad but Johnny was very uncomfortable and after much discussion with manager Henry Jerome, the orchestra was sent to their respective homes leaving the Trio plus drummer Tony Justis in the studio. The track was shelved but is now available in the Bear Family 9CD Set on Johnny, Train Kept A-Rollin’ (this is not the set referred to earlier; it covers the period 1956 to 1964). For the rest of the session plus later Coral sessions, see the main text.

With records still not selling in sufficient quantities, Coral let them go and Johnny and Dorsey, separately, moved to the West coast with both aiming at solo careers. They got together again and gained some recognition writing songs for Ricky Nelson. Together they penned Waiting In School and Believe What You Say, Johnny wrote Just A Little Too Much and Dorsey wrote It’s Late. With hindsight perhaps they should have held on to some of these songs; Nelson certainly showed discernment in picking the good ones.

Johnny signed with Freedom Records as a solo artist but after a few singles, the label folded with Johnny moving to its parent label, Liberty. His third release for the label, in 1960, gave him the hit he had been craving. The pairing of Dreamin’ and Cincinnati Fireball had a much poppier sound than the early Coral singles and the public certainly liked it. After a couple more big hits, sales started gradually dropping off and he was let go in 1962. He cut a couple of discs for Chancellor then he got together again with Dorsey for a single for Reprise, It Don’t Take Much / Hey Sue. The flip was in the early country rock vein and not unlike the songs they’d written for Ricky Nelson. Capitol was Johnny’s next label for which he cut three singles. Finally he formed a label of his own, Sahara Records which morphed into Magic Lamp. Two records saw release and the flip of the second, Less Than A Heartbeat, a country/pop hybrid is worth a spin. And that was that. Johnny’s tragic death in 1964 is recorded in the main text.

8. Like Johnny, Dorsey Burnette also pursued a solo career. He had two minor hits – #23 and #48 respectively – with (There Was A) Tall Oak Tree and Hey Little One on the Era label in 1960. The songs were written by Dorsey but with Barry De Vorzon, another singer/songwriter as co-writer on the second. Glen Campbell and Brook Benton covered Tall Oak Tree and Campbell also covered Hey Little One. The song was frequently present in the Grateful Dead stage repertoire.

The hits then dried up and Dorsey got into label jumping much like his brother. This continued until roughly 1970 when he made a switch to country music which gave him respectable if not remarkable Country Chart showings until his death from a heart attack in 1979.

As a personal comment, I’ve always thought that Dorsey’s voice and vocal mannerisms belonged to an earlier generation of music, more along the big tenor or baritone line like Edmund Hockridge than the crooner style. I still own an LP from Dorsey entitled Tall Oak Tree. I bought it hoping for rockabilly or at least something close but instead got late forties sounding renditions of songs like That Lucky Old Sun and The Wayward Wind.

9. For points of comparison regarding the usage of session musicians by Owen Bradley, it’s worth recalling that Buddy Holly and his then band ran into exactly the same issue with Bradley only a few months earlier than the Burnette trio, and also the battles that Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson fought, and won, with the Nashville hierarchy to have their road bands used in the studio.

10. Wayne Walker was a singer/songwriter from Texas who achieved considerable success as a writer – 23 of his songs received BMI awards – but next to zero recognition as a performer. Songs from Wayne (either as an individual or with shared credit) included Burning Memories (Ray Price), Cut Across Shorty (Eddie Cochran), Little Boy Sad (Johnny Burnette) and Leavin’ On Your Mind (Patsy Cline). Highlights of Wayne’s recorded career included Love Me (with Jimmy Lee plus D.J. Fontana on drums), All I Can Do Is Cry (with Grady Martin on guitar) and Bo Bo Ska Diddle Daddle (on which it’s believed that Hank Garland was on lead).

11. The name Al Mortimer appears as co-writer on some of the Johnny and Dorsey Burnette Coral records including Lonesome Tears (In My Eyes). It was a pseudonym used by Henry Jerome who was the Burnette Trio’s manager and also A&R Director for Coral Records. Jerome/Mortimer was, one assumes, making use of a common manager’s practice in those days, taking a share of a song’s possible royalties.

12. Lonesome Tears (In My Eyes) was played live by the Beatles in a BBC studio for the radio programme Pop Goes The Beatles in July 1963. Decades later it was included on the Beatles CD, Live At The BBC. This is it complete with a slightly misleading intro from John.

13. A curio from the Burnette Trio Nashville period is one that might have been cut in emulation of the Charlie Feathers written, but Elvis Presley performed, Sun slowie, I Forgot To Remember To Forget. The song was I Just Found Out, a number that’s essentially a slow tears-in-beer country song but with bluesy overtones. Johnny doesn’t appear entirely comfortable with this sort of material but, being realistic, was he likely to surpass Elvis anyway? The oddity about the song is the presence of blatantly poor grammar in the line “I just found out that you was cheating me” just after the return from the middle eight, round about the 1:10 mark.

14. I’ve seen rumours that Eddie Cochran was present on guitar on Warm Love but the Marc Alesina sessionography, while noting the presence of an unknown electric rhythm guitar, has the lead electric guitar firmly identified as Joe Maphis. However, for at least one, and possibly more, of the tracks that went to form the three singles released by Johnny on the Freedom label subsequently, Cochran definitely was present, according to Alesina. That track, which became the A-side of the second Freedom single was the Burnette penned, Me And The Bear which bears a distinct resemblance to Cochran’s Cut Across Shorty (which wasn’t released until May 1960). It’s possible that Cochran used some of the arrangement for Me And The Bear as a model for ‘Shorty’. It also has to be said that the Cochran record is superior to the Burnette one which suffered from poor production – too many of the undoubtedly star-studded session team wanted to have their say and this wasn’t controlled.

15. There’s a fine biography of producer Snuff Garrett from BlackCat Rockabilly Europe (which is unfortunately no longer available). The writer opens with the line: “For most rock n roll purists, especially those who hate strings, the mere mention of the name Tommy “Snuff ” Garrett is tantamount to heresy” but follows it up with “Nevertheless, he was one of the most successful producers of the first half of the 1960s, with some thirty Top 30 hits to his credit”. Garrett was born near Dallas, Texas in 1938 and was operating as a DJ in Lubbock at the age of 17 when he befriended Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings. He cut his teeth as a producer on the Johnny Burnette solo records. More hits came with Gene McDaniels, Bobby Vee, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Cher. He also moved into the field of country with names like Tanya Tucker, Merle Haggard and Ronnie Milsap.

16. It’s far from impossible that I might have been overly cryptic in the last few lines of the main text. The Train Kept A-Rollin’ was the opening track on the 1971 album Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page and a fine effort it was too. And while on the subject of covers, Ringo Starr came up with his version of You’re Sixteen in 1974 (US Dec ’73) and it did very nicely for him indeed.

17. As something of a coda to references to Hound Dog in the text, I can add that the Trio were known to play the number on stage – see clip below which comes from their third appearance on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in September 1956 and features a brief interview prior to the song. Unfortunately, the sound is poor though was probably true to what was heard at the time. This is also the clip that was overdubbed with Train Kept A-Rollin’ by a YouTube uploader.



Johnny Burnette (1934–1964)

Dorsey Burnette (1932-1979)


Johnny Burnette poster


The Johnny & Dorsey Burnette Discography

Johnny Burnette: Train Kept A-Rollin (9-CD Box)

Rockabilly Hall of Fame: Paul Burlison (1929-2003)

Johnny Burnette biography (Apple Music)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Glen Campbell, Eddie Cochran, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, Everly Brothers, Charlie Feathers, Buddy Holly, Johnny Horton, Waylon Jennings, Brenda Lee, Ricky Nelson, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Warren Smith, Big Joe Turner, Gene Vincent, Yardbirds

TopperPost #817


  1. Peter Viney
    Oct 18, 2019

    You lead me to investigate early Johnny Burnette further, Dave. As a fan of the Billy / Bobby / Johnny / Willie / Micky / Ronnie / Jimmy era just before The Beatles, I’d have to have some of the strings and chorus Snuff Garrett hit stuff from that era … five Top Forty singles. Definitely You’re Sixteen and Girls. Maybe the sequel I’m Still Dreamin’. I’m not so fond of Clown Shoes. A guilty pleasure is I Want To Thank Your Folks which I picked up because it was on the iconic Pye international label. I hadn’t ever heard (or heard of) God, Country & My Baby until I read your mention. It’s on YouTube. That is truly awful, maybe awful enough to file under “so bad it’s good.” In 1997 Paul Burlison did a CD “Train Kept A-Rollin’” assisted by the 90s version of The Band (though not all together on any one song), Mavis Staples, Rocky Burnette, Billy Burnette and Los Lobos. That has a fine version of Hound Dog on it, sung by Levon Helm, Mavis Staples and Rick Danko.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Oct 21, 2019

    Thanks for this great piece. Knew Johnny through the Rick(y) Nelson connection, but hadn’t really explored his own music before this. Will now rectify that – some great music in here (“this little baby”?)

  3. Keith Shackleton
    Oct 22, 2019

    Great stuff. I can take or leave “Pop Johnny”, but there are many contenders on my 1989 Bear Family “Rockin’ Johnny” compilation for a top ten.
    Your list is pretty much the basis for the set list of the late 70s relaunch of The Pirates (minus another Rockin’ and Pop Johnny of course) 🙂

  4. Peter Viney
    Oct 23, 2019

    I ordered The Complete Singles As & Bs 1956-62 (62 tracks!) which confirm the rockabilly stuff’s quality and especially the leap between the two versions of You’re Undecided. I really didn’t like their take on Blues Stay Away From Me which was defined by The Delmore Brothers (and covered by the 90s Band). There are a couple of good B-sides later though … Don’t Do It and Cincinatti Fireball (B-side of Dreamin’ – which I already knew). If I thought God Country & My Baby was the bottom, that’s only because I hadn’t heard Damn the Defiant.

    • Dave Stephens
      Oct 25, 2019

      Gentlemen, thanks for those comments. I think you’ve got my measure. Mind you if anyone does then it has to be those people (or robots) at Amazon. They’ve just mailed me and offered “Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun”, the 18 CD Box Set at only – my adjective – £339.69. While regrettably I’m going to have to pass they certainly know how to tempt. And it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was engaged in a battle of words with those self-same robots as to whether I was allowed to use the term “doo wop” in a review. They won of course so I cheated from then onwards – things like “doo wopper” and “doo wopped” seemed to go below the radar.

      • Peter Viney
        Oct 25, 2019

        There are 42 tracks on “The Complete Sun Singles” at £5.93. How did they find 18 CDs worth? The Johnny Burnette Complete As& Bs was about £7.50 for its 62 tracks. I suspect it’s an “out of copyright” release because it doesn’t get to the 62-64 Capitol singles. Sun had a stack of original 1956 Jerry Lee 45s found in a stockroom at $150 each when I was there.

  5. André Landgraf
    Mar 15, 2021

    Hello Dave, thanks for all these great facts and background infos about the Johnny Burnette Rock’n’Roll Trio. But in your footnotes there’s something wrong, you wrote:

    5. The Rock ‘N Roll Trio album was initially released as a 10 inch LP on Decca’s Ace Of Hearts budget label. The 1970 rerelease expanded it to 12 inch format. While the latter can be purchased for a song – almost – these days, the ’66 LP is much harder to find and its price has risen accordingly.

    Here are the real facts about the original releases of the album in the UK:
    The first issue of the album in the UK was in December 1956 on the Vogue Coral Label (LVC 10041, 10 inch record, Mono, originals have a halfmoon flipback cover and a stamped matrix in the deadwax, the sound is great, full dynamic and loud) – today one of the rarest 10 inch albums in the Rock’n’Roll genre. It was credited to Johnny Burnette and the Rock’n’Roll trio. The labels are black with silver printings.

    The second issue was ten years later in 1966 on Decca’s budget line Ace Of Hearts with a different cover that’s shows Johnny Burnette Face on a reddish background, credited to Johnny Burnette and named “Rock’n’Roll Trio” (AH 120, 12 inch record, Mono), this issue has a fantastic sound too, full dynamic and in original Mono. The labels are dark red with silver printings.

    The third issue was in 1970 (Coral CP 61, 12 inch, mono), this issue has a completly different cover, and shows a round black&white picture of Johnny Burnette on the front cover, the edges are yellow. Credited to Johnny Burnette and titled Rock’n’Roll Trio, the labels are beige brown-blue with silver printings.

    • Dave Stephens
      Mar 15, 2021

      André, many thanks for spotting my boob – it’s something I should have double-checked. An updated version of that footnote will be appearing in the not too distant future.

  6. André Landgraf
    Mar 16, 2021

    Dave, thanks for your reply. I just bought the original 10 inch (for me the “holy grail” of rockabilly collectables) and have for more than 20 years the Ace of Hearts issue in my collection. So for me as longtime record collector it was easy to detect the error. The third issue on Coral CP 61 from 1970 is one that I don’t have and never heard, so I can’t say much about it. But fortunately the english record companies reissued many old recordings in the 60s and 70s in original Mono – that’s great. In other countries they just converted all in electronic stereo and depending on the technique used it sounds from terrible to ok, but not as good as the original mono recordings from the period.

  7. André Landgraf
    Mar 16, 2021

    Hi Dave, in the USA the album was first released 1956 on Coral Records (CRL 57080, 12 inch, Mono, maroon-silver labels, originals have stamped matrix in deadwax), then in the UK the 10 inch on Vogue Coral followed (LVC 10041, 10 inch, Mono) in december 1956.

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