Daily Archives: July 18, 2010

The Burnettes – Johnny, Dorsey, Rocky

Gary: Tonight I would like to take a look at the Burnette Family.  They hailed from one of the places that cultivated Early Rock and Roll, Memphis Tennessee.

I believe that their writing contributions, especially Johnny, where very significant. (My partner Russ really only knows or identifies with Dorsey). They also wrote for Rick Nelson, “Believe what you Say“, “It’s Late” and “Waitin in School“.

So here we go back to the Fifties and the Burnette Family.

John Joseph “Johnny” Burnette

Johnny Burnette

He was the key element, along with brother Dorsey and close friend Paul Burlison in starting out:

The Rock and Roll Trio

(The Johnny Burnette Trio)

Johnny, Dorsey and Paul (great guitarist)


1956 / Johnny Burnette Trio / Lonesome Train /
1956 / Ted Mack Amateur Hour / Hound Dog /



How did they get that distinctive fuzz amp sound? Sorry, this is Paul Burlison’s daughter’s explanation.

The amp was DROPPED by my father which made the amp fuzz dislodged before a show in New York. This is what started the fuzz tone.

Thanks Laurie Burlison Hylander.

The name “Rock and Roll Trio” was finally adopted in 1956.

There is so much out there on this threesome, I will just touch on some Highlights.

  • On May 7, 1956 they where paid $41.25 to record some of their original rockabilly songs.  They used a drummer Eddie Gray, Paul Burlison was told to turn up the treble on his amp.
  • They also recorded on July 2 to 5, 1956 using the great Grady Martin on Rhythm guitar and Buddy Harman on drums.  Unfortunately they did not crack the Billboard Top 40.

Here are some of those great early songs recorded for Coral Records:1.   Tear it up


2.   Oh Baby Babe


3.   Train kept-a-rollin’


4.   Please don’t leave me


5.   All by myself (1956)

Paul Burlison born February 4, 1929, Brownsville, Tennessee, USA (died September 27,2003, Horn Lake, Mississippi, USA after a long battle with cancer).

Dorsey Burnette born December 28, 1932 (died August 19, 1979 of a massive coronary at his home in Canoga Park, California, aged 46).

John Joseph “Johnny” Burnette born nearly fifteen months later on March 25, 1934 (died August 14, 1964 in a boating accident, Clear Lake, California, USA)

The ‘e’ at the end of the name was added later.

The Burnette Brothers grew up 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.

Johnny Burnette

Video: (Your Sixteen)

1.   Dreamin’/ Liberty 55258/ August 1960/ #11


2.   You’re Sixteen/ Liberty 55285/ November 1960/ #8


3.   Little Boy Sad/ Liberty 55298/ February 1961/ #17


4.   God, Country and my Baby/ Liberty 55379/ #18


Having attended the same high school as Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette moved into the rockabilly genre by forming a trio with his brother Dorsey Burnette on string bass and school friend Paul Burlison 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.

Dorsey Burnette

1.   (There was a) Tall Oak Tree/ Era 3012/ February 1960/ #23/ #3 CHUM CHART


2.   Big Rock Candy Mountain/Hey Little One/ July 1960/ #17 CHUM CHART

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Hey Little One

In November 1957, the Burnette brothers were approached by songwriter John Marascalco, who had written “Ready Teddy” and “Rip It Up” for Little Richard, as well as Good Night My Love and other hits. He was looking for a singer to help him with a new song called “Bertha Lou“. Dorsey and Johnny went into the Master Recorders Studio in Hollywood and, backed by Odell Hull (lead guitar), Danny Flores (piano) and H B Barnum (drums), cut two tracks: “Bertha Lou” and “‘Till The Law Says Stop“. It was originally planned that Johnny would sing the lead vocals, but when he recalled that he was still under contract to Coral Records, Dorsey suggested he could sing the song and that nobody would care about that. So, the vocal duties were switched, with Johnny singing some of the backing vocals.

The two sides were released as a single (Surf SR5019-45) under Dorsey Burnette’s name. Contrary to expectations, however, Coral threatened to sue and so label owner, Kenny Babcock withdrew the record.

Not wishing for the session to be completely wasted, however, Babcock had Dorsey’s voice overdubbed with that of one of his own singers, Johnny Faire (also known as John Faircloth). Surf SR5019-45 was subsequently re-released as by Johnny Faire. Johnny Faire was later to change his name and find fame as Donnie Brooks.

In 1979, Dorsey signed with Elektra/Asylum label. Just after his first record release, however, he died of a massive coronary at his home in Canoga Park, California on August 19, 1979, aged 46. He was interred near his brother Johnny in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Rocky Burnette

(Johnny’s Son)



1980 / Tired of Toein’ the Line /
Please don’t go / Rocky Burnette & Paul Burlison /
2000 / Rocky & Billy Burnette with Paul Burlison, D J Fontana, Jimmy Weider & David Coe /
Billy Burnette / Tear it Up /
It’s Late / Billy singing Dorsey’s song (his Dad) / with Jack Clement from the Original Sun Records

1.   Tired of Toein’ the Line/ EMI America 8043/ June 1980/ #8


Rocky Burnette was part of the early 1980s revival of the Rockabilly style [part of the Urban Cowboy era?]. He had released his first album, Son of Rock ‘n’ Roll, on EMI America in 1979.

In the Summer of 1980, his single “Tired of Toein’ the Line” became a Top Ten hit in the United States. The song was also popular internationally. EMI America’s financial problems interfered with promotion efforts for the follow-up singles (several of which became hits in other countries), and Rocky’s second album, Heart Stopper, was not successful.

In 1981, he toured Europe with the final version of his late father’s The Rock and Roll Trio. He also used the band on his next album, Get Hot or Go Home! on Enigma Records. It also sold poorly, and Enigma dropped Burnette and the Trio rather than release a follow-up.

Burnette worked with Rosie Flores and Dwight Twilley in the mid-1990s, and also contributed vocals and the original “Trouble Is I’m in Love With You” to Paul Burlison’s 1997 Train Kept A-Rollin’ .

In 1996, Burnette released Tear It Up on Core Records, which went bankrupt almost immediately after its release.

Rocky Burnette continued to tour internationally, and wrote the European hit “You Got Away With Love” for Percy Sledge in 1997.