Why James Burton is Important to the Music Business
Anyone who likes music and is from Shreveport knows James Burton. They know he was the leader of Elvis' "Taking Care of Business" band and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They may even know some of the other records James laid down signature on like Merle Haggard's "Working Man's Blues" or Ricky Nelson's "Traveling Man". But, what a lot of people don't know is how important and influential James really is.
I had the honor and privilege to visit with Mr. Burton a few weeks ago when he was making the rounds to promote his Elvis Christmas special. During our chat, he told this fantastic story of hanging out with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. At one point during dinner, Page pulls out his wallet and shows Burton that he carries a photo of him at all times. Now this may seem like an unbelievable story. Why would one of the greatest guitarists of all time carry a picture of James Burton in his wallet?
Well, the answer is simple really. Without Burton, Jimmy Page's guitar sound probably wouldn't exist. As Brad Paisley said, “James Burton is the reason we all play.” Burton doesn't have the song writing ability of a Jimi Hendrix or the personality of a Chuck Berry. But what he does have is a vision and ear to produce a unique sound. The guy picked up a Fender Telecaster in the days when nobody was really playing them, put banjo strings on it and really kicked the rockabilly/rock and roll revolution into high gear.
If you're a budding guitar player who wants to play country or rock, Burton's licks are a must learn. They are simple yet impactful and memorable. Plus, as any guitar player will tell you, one of the most important guitar and amp combinations in music is the Fender Telecaster and Twin Reverb Amp. You know who really put that combo together and made it famous among guitar players? You guessed it...James Burton.
Plus, while we're discussing James' sound, its still influencing artists today. There's a reason Burton has one of 30 some odd artist signature edition guitars being sold by Fender. Not only does his flaming guitar look cool, but the sound it produces is unique as well. Fender created and designed a pick up system to replicate JB's sound so everyone could have it. Of the millions and millions guitar players to ever live, only a handful have ever gotten that treatment.
While James was influenced by guys like Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins and Muddy Waters, he somehow always managed to find a way to add to the song without mangling it. Plus, you want to talk about a versatile player, James is it. The guy has played with everyone from Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash and everyone in between.
I know I just took 400+ words to explain to you just how cool, influential and important James Burton is. But I'm just going to stop and let some of the most famous guitar players in the world tell you how cool he is (these quotes were collected by Guitar Player Magazine) :
“James Burton is a giant in the world of guitar playing. His inventive and cool rockabilly style has a timeless quality to it, and it always rocks!” —JOE SATRIANI
“James Burton is one of the finest guitar players that I ever met.” —ELVIS PRESLEY
“I learned guitar by imitating note-for-note James Burton’s solos on Ricky Nelson records.” —JIMMY PAGE
“Those early sounds that we did, I just hated them. They sounded so puny. I mean listening to James Burton playing on the Ricky Nelson records… and we would come up with our stuff that was so feeble.” —GEORGE HARRISON
“James Burton is an American treasure, and was one of the first people to make the Telecaster guitar sound like it does today.” —BRIAN SETZER
“I heard Scotty Moore first and then Carl Perkins, but when I heard James Burton on ’Suzie Q’ it just floored me. “It made me want to play guitar.” —SONNY LANDRETH
“You think back to Tele players, and James Burton was the one who started it all.” —BRAD PAISLEY
“I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record.” —KEITH RICHARDS
“James Burton was one of my earliest guitar influences. The Rick Nelson stuff… things like ‘Believe What You Say’… is just mind boggling.” —JOHN FOGERTY
“James Burton is one of the true innovators on the electric guitar.” —RICK DERRINGER
“James Burton is my number one guitar hero. I admit that my admiration bordered on the obsessive, trying to figure out that Burton sound.” —JEFF COOK
“The first year I played with James Burton, I was so much in awe, that a lot of the times I looked on the Hot Band as a vehicle to put the spotlight on James to say, ‘Hey everybody, I hope you realize who you are getting to hear.’” —EMMYLOU HARRIS
“…James Burton, the greatest!” – CHET ATKINS
“You will never meet a finer gentleman, nor a better guitar player than James Burton.” —CARL PERKINS, 1990
“He’s the best guitar player there is.” —JOHN DENVER, 1990
“James Burton has been an inspiration to me since I was a teenager.” —JOHNNY RIVERS
“In the ’60s, Jimmy Page and I used to get together at my place or his and just roll on the floor listening to records. He was a Burton fan too, and carried a picture of James in his wallet.” —ALBERT LEE
“He was just a mysterious guy. Who is this guy and why is he on all these records I like?” —JOE WALSH