Paul Burlison & Rocky Burnette

Listen to Paul Burlison with the Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio on Rockabilly Boogie

Rock and Roll Trio

There are no greater writing credits on a rock 'n' roll record than "Burnette-Burnette-Burlison." Born in Brownsville, Tennessee and raised in Memphis, the only surviving third of that trio of hallowed names, Paul Burlison was taught to play guitar by his brother-in-law, Earl Brooks. Influenced by country as well as blues, Paul would regularly steal down to Beale street to dig the scene. After serving in the Navy, he came back to Memphis and began playing with Shelby Fallon over KWEM in West Memphis. One day his picking caught the ear of Howlin' Wolf, who immediately invited him to play on his radio broadcasts. Over the next few months, Paul continued to accompany Wolf over the air, but due to the racial climate of the time, he was unable to play in Wolf`s regular band, having to risk all kinds of scrutiny just to go sit in with Wolf and Willie Johnson one night in West Memphis.

Gigging with Doc McQueen`s swing band at the Hideaway, Burlison' keen interest in boxing, as well as music, led to an eventual encounter with the Burnette Brothers, Johnny and Dorsey. Paul recruited them to join Doc's band and eventually Doc began featuring them as a trio, playing their own version of speeded-up Hank Williams meets the blues. They were managed by Eddie Bond`s dad and cut the impossibly rare "You're Undecided" for the tiny Von label out of Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Paul and Dorsey were working together at Crown Electric where the future Memphis Flash worked as a truck driver. While playing at an auto dealership with Doc McQueen, Paul let a young Elvis sing "Birthday Cake Boogie," which was a little too risque for Doc!

Watching their co-worker eventually blast off to the stratosphere after a chance visit to Sun Records, Paul, Dorsey and Johnny struck off to New York to hit the big time. Christened the Rock 'n' Roll Trio, the boys won the Ted Mack amateur hour three times and quickly signed to Coral Records, where their initial sessions yielded "Midnight Train," "Tear It Up," and "Oh Baby Babe."

Burlison could not have known it at the time, but his life was about to be forever altered. While playing a show one night, he accidentally bumped into his amplifier and knocked a tube loose, resulting in a fuzzy distorted sound that he found utterly intriguing. Their next recording session was in Nashville, and Paul pulled the tube loose in his amp once again and unleashed the snarling fuzz when they cut their version of Tiny Bradshaw's jump R&B hit "Train Kept-A-Rollin.'" In the annals of rock 'n' roll's heroes and villains, the legend of Paul Burlison was born that day, as he unknowingly took his place alongside pioneering guitar maniacs like Bo Diddley and Link Wray. As long as there are garages, basements and electric guitars, there will always be teenagers trying their damndest to play "Train Kept-A-Rollin.'" And, most importantly, probably succeeding.

The rock 'n' roll trio went on the road, adding drummer Tony Austin, and soon became known as Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n' Roll Trio. Dorsey resented this and quit, heading to California and a new musical career with Imperial, where Johnny would soon join him. Johnny Black replaced Dorsey on bass but Paul eventually tired of touring and came back to Memphis to spend more time with his wife. Aside from cutting some things with Dorsey at Sun, Paul worked as en electrician over the next twenty years, though music was not entirely behind him: He led folklorist Alan Lomax to Othar Turner and writer Robert Palmer to R.L. Burnside and then joined the Sun Rhythm section with D.J. Fontana, Smooochy Smith and Sonny Burgess, touring and recording a pair of albums.

He continues to this day touring with Johnny' son Rocky, who hit it big with "Towing The Line." Called upon by Paul to recreate the magic of the Rock 'n' Roll Trio, Rocky chopped his hair off and Paul and he have been tearin' it up ever since.

« Artists