Johnny Burnette Biography

28 March 1934, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 1 August 1964, Clear Lake, California, USA. Having attended the same high school as Elvis Presley, Johnny moved into the rockabilly genre by forming a trio with his brother Dorsey Burnette on string bass and schoolfriend Paul Burlison (b. 4 February 1929, Brownsville, Tennessee, USA, d. 27 September 2003, Horn Lake, Mississippi, USA) on guitar. Allegedly rejected by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, the group recorded ‘Go Mule Go’ for Von Records in New York and were subsequently signed to Coral Records, where they enjoyed a minor hit with ‘Tear It Up’. After touring with Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent, the trio underwent a change of personnel in November 1956 with the recruitment of drummer Tony Austin. That same month, the trio featured in Alan Freed’s movie Rock Rock Rock. During this period, they issued a number of singles, including ‘Honey Hush’, ‘The Train Kept A-Rollin’’, ‘Lonesome Train’, ‘Eager Beaver Baby’, ‘Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee’ and ‘If You Want It Enough’, but despite the quality of the songs their work was unheralded.

By the autumn of 1957, the trio broke up and the Burnette brothers moved on to enjoy considerable success as songwriters. Writing as a team, they provided Ricky Nelson with the hits ‘It’s Late’, ‘Believe What You Say’ and ‘Just A Little Too Much’. After briefly working as a duo, the brothers parted for solo careers. Johnny proved an adept interpreter of teen ballads, whose lyrics conjured up innocent dreams of wish fulfilment. Both ‘Dreamin’’ and ‘You’re Sixteen’ were transatlantic Top 10 hits, perfectly suited to Burnette’s light but expressive vocal. A series of lesser successes followed with ‘Little Boy Sad’, ‘Big Big World’, ‘Girls’ and ‘God, Country And My Baby’. With his recording career in decline, Burnette formed his own label Magic Lamp in 1964. In August that year, he accidentally fell from his boat during a fishing trip in Clear Lake, California and drowned. Among the family he left behind was his son Rocky Burnette, who subsequently achieved recording success in the 70s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.