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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

James Burton To Be Honored


James Burton, John Anderson and Toby Keith will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Guitarist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

For a plucky kid from Dubberly with a simple passion for playing guitar, James Burton’s career is hard to fathom. Widely considered one of the most influential guitarists and session musicians in American music history, Burton will soon be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside fellow nominees John Anderson and the late Toby Keith. Burton was nominated under the Recording and/or Touring Musician category.

“James Burton … blended country and blues to create a fiery picking style that distinguished countless hits and has inspired guitarists the world over,” said Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum chief executive officer.

When he was just a teen, Burton spotted a 1953 Fender Telecaster in the window of J&S Music Store in downtown Shreveport. That guitar would change the course of his life.

Burton’s rise to fame started soon after when he joined the house band of the famed Louisiana Hayride radio program. He was only 14 years old. Burton’s earliest studio recordings were done at Ram Recording Studio in Shreveport by music industry pioneer Mira Smith and were released by Ram Records.

Later, a late-night song recording session with Dale Hawkins and his band in the KWKH studio effectively launched Burton’s career. The song was called “Susie-Q” and would later be named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock.” The song is most notable for Burton’s distinctive opening guitar riff. Burton’s unique sound would later be called “chicken pickin’” — an innovative style that used a straight pick and a fingerpick on his middle finger. Burton and his chicken pickin’ style would ultimately help reshape the sound of American music.

From there, Burton’s career skyrocketed.

He moved to Los Angeles and joined forces with future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Nelson as the lead guitarist of his band. Burton’s signature guitar licks became synonymous with Nelson’s sound, earning him widespread professional recognition and solidifying his status as a guitar virtuoso. Burton’s association with Ricky Nelson also led to the first of his many onscreen appearances, as he appeared regularly on “The Ozzie and Harriet Show,” backing Nelson.

In 1965, Burton joined the house band on “Shindig!,” NBC’s musical variety television show. Around the same time, he began to blaze a trail as an in-demand session musician. Over six decades, Burton has laid down a distinctive guitar style on thousands of songs. He recorded with hundreds of artists, from Merle Haggard to the Monkees, Emmylou Harris to John Denver, and Jerry Lee Lewis to Brad Paisley. In the late 1960s, Burton was so sought after with studio bookings that he had to turn down invitations to join Bob Dylan’s touring band and Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special television program. A second offer from Presley led Burton to help assemble and play in Presley’s TCB Band from 1969 until Elvis died in 1977.

For Burton, the honors have come one after the other. For his lifelong association with Fender guitars, Burton was dubbed “The Master of the Telecaster.” In 1991, Fender released the first of a series of James Burton signature Telecasters. Then, in 2001, Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones introducing him. Even Paul McCartney — famed member of the Beatles — has described James Burton as “a hero.”

At the Country Music Hall of Fame ceremony announcing the 2024 nominees, Burton was introduced by fellow northwest Louisiana native and country music superstar Kix Brooks.

“Being from Shreveport, this guy was a big-time hometown hero,” Brooks said. “All of us wanted to learn how to play guitar and be just as cool as he was.”

Brooks also noted Burton’s work with the James Burton Foundation. This nonprofit supports music education for those in need through guitar donations and music instruction to schools, hospitals and community service organizations.

“He dedicated so much of his life to making sure young people had music and musical instruments in their hands in our hometown and around the country,” Brooks noted. “I don’t think people really know what a philanthropic, big-hearted, amazing, hard-working guy he was to put music in the hands of young people who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been exposed that way.”

James Burton, John Anderson and Toby Keith will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during the annual medallion ceremony set for this October.


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