James Burton Guitar Memories.

Lead guitar player for Elvis and Ricky Nelson.



I enjoy many guitar players but the James Burton guitar memories brings to mind the first time I saw James Burton playing guitar behind Ricky Nelson on the Ozzie & Harriet TV show.

His guitar playing with Nelson began in 1957 until around 1965. Burton would later contribute to his friend, Rick Nelson's studio albums through 1968.


James Burton Guitar Memories
Ricky Nelson Discovers His Super Star Guitar Man!


James Burton was born in Dubberly, Louisiana in 1939 but grew up in Shreveport.

At 14 he was working club gigs and private parties. He even skipped school just to be able to play guitar. It wasn't the money, it was just for the thrill of playing.

He had enough talent at a young age that the producer of the Louisiana Hayride asked him if wanted to do some shows and join the staff band. He played behind future stars George Jones, Billy Walker and Johnny Horton.

In 1955, sixteen year old James Burton was playing with the Dale Hawkins band when they got a break and were signed to Chess Records. In 1957, Burton recorded the instantly recognizable guitar riff for the classic “Susie Q” with Dale Hawkins singing lead. James wrote the guitar lick and Hawkins put the lyrics to it.


Ricky Nelson surrounded with some great James Burton guitar memories.

While in Hollywood playing in a band, Ricky Nelson heard him rehearsing, and he soon got a telegram and an offer to be on the Ozzie and Harriet show as member of Nelson's back up band.

In the beginning  James played rhythm guitar for Ricky and was actually living with the Nelson's. Ozzie and Harriet had invited him to stay at their home. He lived with them for about two years before getting his own place.

He played his first lead guitar recording with Ricky on one of my favorite Ricky Nelson songs "Believe What You Say." After that he played lead on every record Ricky Nelson made between 1958 and 1967.

This is what John Fogerty and George Harrison had to say about James and his early Ricky Nelson years with the original 1958 45rpm "BelieveWhat You Say" sound they were talking about.

"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, GP Magazine, 1986

"Those early sounds that we did, I just hated them. They sounded so puny. I mean, listening to James Burton playing on the Rick Nelson records... and we would come up with our stuff that was so feeble." (reflecting on The Beatles' early career) George Harrison, GP Magazine, 1985.


The Elvis Years...Elvis' favorite guitar player.


James Burton guitar memories looks back at 1968 when he was working with Frank Sinatra, and Elvis called him and wanted him to do an NBC show that would later be know as, the '68 Comeback Special.

He was so busy with studio work he was unable to work with Elvis, but a year later Elvis called again and James was available.

While talking to James on the phone Elvis told him that he watched the Ozzie and Harriet show just to see him play at the end of the show.

During his '69 performances, he always introduced James as his favorite guitar player.


"Play the Song James" | The Wonder of You... 
Las Vegas, 1970.


Another one of my favorites by Elvis is the song, "The Wonder of You." Watch how Elvis shows respect for his friend and favorite guitarist, James Burton. As he begins the guitar solo Elvis says, "Play the song James" and then points toward him giving him the stage.

Also,  notice that James is playing his famous "Pink Paisley" guitar that Fender created in 1969 as a special model for Burton. The James Burton guitar memories continues with the second video below, as James explains in the interview what Elvis thought of the Pink Paisley when he first brought it on stage.


Elvis and the talented backup singers.


You may have never heard of the Holladay Sisters — Ginger and Mary — of Pell City, Alabama. You've heard their voices on Dave Loggins, “Please Come to Boston” and for Willie Nelson and Elvis on "Always On My Mind." They also sang backup on the Elvis hits “Suspicious Minds," "In the Ghetto," "The Wonder of You" and "Burning Love."

Another reason we like to give credit to those faceless voices that have been in your head for years.  And no, the sisters once said, they don’t mind being known forever as Elvis’ backup singers.

James Burton and His Famous Friends.


James played with Elvis as a member of the TCB band until Elvis' death in 1977.

He has also played with Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dean Martin, The Everly Brothers, Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Burton played great music with Elvis but some of his iconic guitar hooks with Rick Nelson and Merle Haggard were just as memorable. Great hooks with Merle Haggard hits, like "Momma Tried" and "Working Man's Blues." He also added the guitar licks to the Jerry Lee Lewis version of "Working Man's Blues." Burton made the telecaster viable instead of a student grade guitar. 

After reading the James Burton guitar memories and watching these three video clips you can see, and listen to why I view James Burton as one of the best guitar players of all time.

When you see some of them old clips of Ricky Nelson singing on the Ozzie & Harriet Show and Elvis performing in Las Vegas, you'll at least know who the lead guitar player is standing next to them....James Burton.

James Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.


"The King and I"

James Burton talks about Elvis.

Take a look at the following interview and listen to how Burton describes his friendship with Elvis.  James' comments reveals how much Elvis appreciated everyone around him.  


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    The Ricky Nelson cover of the song, "I Will Follow You," was originally recorded in 1961 as an instrumental. In 1963 Nelson recorded "I Will Follow You" for his first Decca Album and sang the cover on The Ozzie and Harriet show with a young James Burton on lead guitar.

  • Mystery Train Vinyl Record Memories | Who's The Best on Guitar.

    Who's the best guitarist on this classic Elvis Presley song? Recalling some of my favorite Mystery Train vinyl record memories I'll start with the original by Elvis and continue with other great guitarists for a special Mystery Train challenge.

  • Jerry Lee Lewis Old Country Music Lyrics | Workin' Man Blues Cover

    Jerry Lee Lewis Old Country Music Lyrics will give you "The Killer's" version on what I believe to be the very best recorded version of the classic Country Music song "Workin' Man Blues," originally released from the LP "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye."

  • Mama Tried Lyrics | Merle Haggard 1968 Vinyl Record Memories

    Mama Tried Lyrics looks back on hard times as Merle Haggard tried to focus on the pain and suffering he caused his mother after being placed in San Quentin prison in 1957. His songwriting always seemed to take you with him and make you feel the hurt he experienced.



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