The Master Of The Telecaster | James Burton

Happy Birthday, James Burton!

Burton has been a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001 (his induction speech was given by longtime fan Keith Richards). He has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Critic Mark Demming writes that “Burton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest guitar pickers in either country or rock … Burton is one of the best guitar players to ever touch a fretboard.”

On August 21, 1939, James Burton was born in Dubberly, Louisiana, and he grew up in Shreveport. At only 14, James went professional, working club gigs and private parties. Horace Logan was the producer of the Louisiana Hayride and he asked if James wanted to do some shows and join the staff band. James was 14 at the time. He remained with the Hayride for about a year.

Since the 1950s, Burton has recorded and performed with an array of notable singers, including Bob Luman, Dale Hawkins, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, John Denver, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Judy Collins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Claude King, Elvis Costello, Joe Osborn, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, Vince Gill, Suzi Quatro, Allen “Puddler” Harris…

And most notably, Elvis Presley.

In 1969, Presley again asked Burton to join his show in Las Vegas, and, this time, Burton accepted. Burton organized the TCB Band, serving as its leader, and backed Presley from 1969 until his death in 1977. A hallmark of Elvis’ live shows during this period was his exhortation, “Play it, James,” as a cue for the guitarist’s solos. For the first season in Vegas in 1969, Burton played his red standard Telecaster. Shortly thereafter, he purchased the now familiar pink paisley custom Telecaster. Burton was not sure that Elvis would like it; however, since Elvis did, Burton used it for every show.

Elvis told James how he always watched the Ozzie and Harriet show just to see him play. It was no surprise that when Elvis called James back in ’69 to put up a band for his Las Vegas engagement, he was there. It was a very tough decision to make since his studio career was very busy and very lucrative. Burton had already turned down an offer by Bob Dylan to go on tour. Sessions were usually booked three months in advance, so Presley gave Burton a few months to get the band together. James would remain with Elvis until Elvis’ death in 1977.

In this video, I showcase a mere handful of the many great licks James Burton played throughout his time as lead guitarist for Elvis Presley.

“Runaway” (Live, August 22nd, 1969, Las Vegas Internation

“Mystery Train / Tiger Man” (Live, August 25th 1969, Las Vegas International)

“Hound Dog” (Live, August 11th 1970, Las Vegas International)

“Blue Suede Shoes” (Live, August 12th 1970, Las Vegas International)

“The Wonder Of You” (Live, August 13th 1970, Las Vegas International)

“See See Rider” (Live, April 9th 1972, Hampton Roads, Virginia)

“That’s All Right” (Live, June 10th 1972, Madison Square Garden)

“Steamroller Blues” (Live, January 14th 1973, ‘Aloha From Hawaii’)

“Johnny B. Goode” (Live, January 14th 1973, ‘Aloha From Hawaii’)

“If You Don’t Come Back” (Recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee on July 21st 1973)

“Just A Little Bit” (Recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee on July 21st 1973)

“Promised Land” (Recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee on December 15th 1973)
via YouTube