I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in "Cheers & Jeers".
OK, you've been warned - here is this week's
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES - the exhibition Trails to Rails: John Mix Stanley and the Pacific Railroad Survey of the 1850's is at the Tucson, Arizona Museum of Art through September 28th.
HAIL and FAREWELL to the songwriter Ray Kennedy - who wrote "Sail On, Sailor" for the Beach Boys and Why Should I Care? for Beck, Bogert & Appice - who has died at the age of 67 ..... Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia - who recorded often with many jazz stars (including John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and Al DiMeola) and thus expanded public exposure to flamenco music - at the age of 66 .... and the radio/TV host Jim Lange - best-known as the host of "The Dating Game" - who has died at the age of 81.
THURSDAY's CHILD is a Mississippi kitteh who survived a building fire (with some extra oxygen provided by firefighters) and is fine (no one was injured).
TRANSPORTATION NOTES - Argentina’s government unveiled new trains for a Buenos Aires commuter-rail line - where a series of accidents over the past two years have left more than 50 people dead. Meanwhile, the nation of Chile hopes to build Latin America's longest suspension bridge by 2020.
BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.
By Request SEPARATED at BIRTH from Elwood Dowd - poet and legendary San Francisco bookshop owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti ..... as well as jazz pianist Mose Allison - the composer of "Parchman Farm" and "Young Man Blues"...... Whaddya think?
CHEERS to the owner of the northern Italian restaurant Dal Pescatore - as Nadia Santini has been named the world's best female chef by the foodies bible (Restaurant magazine).
FRIDAY's CHILD is one profiled here years ago: Tama the Cat is the stationmaster at a railway station in western Japan ... who will turn age fifteen soon, yet attracts tourists from near-and-far.
DEBAUCHERY CENTRAL - an Irishwoman who claims she injured her ribs (when she was pushed by another woman who was striving to grab a prize) at a sex shop party ...... has sued the pub where the event was held.
...... and finally, for a song of the week ...............… from the "You may not know their names, but" file .....… - comes a guitarist whose nearly sixty-year career has been so prolific, you have surely heard James Burton at some point in your life. The (relative) anonymity to the general public comes from having been a sideman (rather than a headliner) much of his life … but his stature as a session player, touring band member and role model for many big-name guitarists ensures his place in musical history.
Born in Louisiana in 1939, he was largely self-taught and as a result developed a distinctive style called chicken pickin' - using both a finger-pick as well as a flat-pick, and with a staccato-like sound (often using single strings) he is at home in a rock, country and folk music setting. He also became proficient at pedal steel and especially the dobro (as we shall see).
At age 15, he backed-up a local singer named Carol Williams. That got him noticed as a prodigy, and he joined a touring band where he came up with the idea for a song. At some point, he came to perform with the singer Dale Hawkins - who fleshed-out the idea for that song and added lyrics. And Dale Hawkins’ 1957 version of Susie-Q (with James Burton playing on it) became a hit single and one of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll (with a later cover version by Creedence Clearwater Revival that brought the song to a wider audience).
Later that year he toured with the band of rockabilly singer Bob Luman, who was asked to perform on a Hollywood film entitled Carnival Rock. While there, the eighteen year-old Burton was overheard by another teenager … and Ricky Nelson felt a kinship that led him to offer Burton a place in his band and – by extension - a regular place on his family’s Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet television show. While Ricky was the star of the band that performed at the end of each show: for many budding musicians, it was the playing of James Burton that made them want to tune in each week (as none other than Elvis Presley later told Burton in person).
In-between shooting of the show (from 1957-1964), James Burton became an in-demand session player in Los Angeles and recorded with a wide range of acts (as will later be noted). One of those sessions was for a 1962 song "Trying to be Someone" by a duo named David and Lee … with a young Leon Russell on piano.
Towards the end of his time with the Nelsons, he was recruited to be part of the hose band for the mid-60’s TV show Shindig! – and while the show didn’t last long, two of his bandmates in The Shindogs were Delaney Bramlett (later to achieve fame with his wife Bonnie and Eric Clapton) and drummer Chuck Blackwell (later to join Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen). Afterwards, Burton began to tour with Merle Haggard – and the sound he began to hone with him (and later concerts with Buck Owens) helped produce the Bakersfield Sound of country music.
At this time, his volume of session work was so great, he turned down offers from two big-name artists in 1968: to join the touring band of Bob Dylan and to appear on the Elvis Presley comeback TV special. However, Elvis was persistent: and in 1969 James Burton accepted his offer to not only join his touring band … but to lead it. And he stayed with Presley until his death in 1977, with James Burton acquiring his now-signature pink paisley Fender Telecaster guitar.
James Burton did some touring with others, including the band of Emmylou Harris from 1975-76 (that included a young Rodney Crowell). Burton performed on a 1977 John Denver summer television special and was asked if he would join him on a European tour? Burton said he would only do so if it did not conflict with his touring with Elvis – but Presley’s death soon after enabled Burton to accept, and he performed with John Denver until 1994 (with some breaks to join Jerry Lee Lewis in the early 80’s) with Burton speaking at John Denver’s 1997 memorial service. Although he did not tour with him, James Burton appeared on recordings by Elvis Costello from 1986-1994.
As noted, he has been content to be a sideman much of his life; to date he has issued only two albums under his own name: Corn Pickin' and Slick Slidin’ (a duet from 1969) and The Guitar Sounds of James Burton from 1971. Yet his appearance on numerous studio recordings probably explains why, and the breadth of the performers he has supported is quite remarkable. Besides those already mentioned: add the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, the Fifth Dimension, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Suzi Quatro, Roy Orbison and Eric Clapton … just for starters.
His place in history was secure long ago. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville (in 2007), the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (in 2009), and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (as a sideman) in 2001 – where he was introduced by Keith Richards who said, "I never bought a Ricky Nelson record ... I bought a James Burton record". He was a sideman on a 2008 Brad Paisley tune Cluster Pluck – along with Vince Gill, Albert Lee and others – which won a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. And he was named by Rolling Stone (as #19) in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list – as the James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh recalled wondering, "Who is this guy - and why is he on all these records I like?"
In 2005, he founded the James Burton Foundation – which seeks to provide musical instruments to needy students – and has an annual benefit concert (in his home of Shreveport, Louisiana) to help provide for its funding. And he does have an instructional video that was released in 2000.
As James Burton will turn age 75 this summer, his touring schedule is somewhat slower compared to his youth … yet there are surely more recordings and performances to come before his career is over.
With such a prolific career, what to choose? As is my wont, there are two choices that follow … and one of them should be as a sideman (a vital part of his career).
One of the most well-respected session performances he gave goes back to 1967, when he played the dobro on the second album by Buffalo Springfield. More specifically: on the Richie Furay-written tune A Child’s Claim to Fame (which Furay later re-recorded with his band Poco). And below you can hear James Burton play the dobro on it.
And let's conclude with the song that introduced him to the world more than fifty-five years ago .... a recent live performance of Susie Q in Austin, Texas - a song that was not a big hit for Dale Hawkins, but is now considered a swamp rock classic.
It features James Burton's signature guitar licks that led the Rolling Stones and (later) Creedence Clearwater Revival to cover. And below you can see it.