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Elvis Has Left the Building, but James Burton's Still Performing

Pop Music * Using taped footage, members of the original Elvis Presley band from the 1970s re-create the concert experience decades after the death of the King.


Although Nelson was seen by some people as a teen idol pretender to the Elvis throne, "I think he did have a feel for it," Burton says. "It was interesting to play music with him. He loved the rockabilly style I used with Luman. He loved that energy. But we did so many different styles, from pop to R&B to country to a Ray Charles ballad. It was great."

Burton got noticed as a peerless rock guitarist on TV and was invited to play on Johnny Cash's 1964 series before being invited to put together a house band for the "Shindig" show, the Shindogs.

"We backed so many artists on that show," Burton says. That led to a lot of studio-session work. His work appeared on recordings by the Everly Brothers, Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Fifth Dimension, Sonny and Cher, the Monkees, "you name it," Burton says.

He wasn't just a player for Top 40 pop. He also played on the more standard recordings by Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat "King" Cole and Charles.

And he was popular also in Nashville where he backed Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Wanda Jackson, among others.

It was through these associations that led to some of Burton's most rewarding work. "Through working with the Byrds, I met Gram Parsons," Burton says. "We cut some wonderful stuff."

Then he went on to back Parsons' harmony singer, Emmylou Harris, as a member of her original Hot Band, an assignment he fit in between his main gig, backing Presley on stage and in the studio.

Among his other gigs over the years were backing the other Elvis--Costello--on the "King of America" tour, and touring with Jerry Lee Lewis.


Roger Catlin is rock music critic for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune company.

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