THE COMPLETE JOHNNY BORNETTE
STUART COLMAN EXAMINES THE CONTENTS OF BEAR FAMILY'S NEW 9xCD JOHNNY BURNETTE COLLECTION
Boxed sets in 2003: Right about now, a casual glance at the 'body of work. section in any sizable neighbourhood record emporium would reveal an abundance of blues biographies, folk forums, country concepts and jazz junkets. Various labels are bound to be represented, including the likes of Chess, Vanguard. Mercury and Blue Note. With respect to these power brands, it will come as no surprise to the discerning rock n roll fan that the imprint dominating the racks is likely to be Bear Family. Given that they have over twenty years experience in this field, the German company pretty much sets the standards by which the medium is currently governed. New that the hour has come to vent chapter and verse on the entire recorded works of Johnny Burnette, its Richard Weize's team who are behind the diamond-studded. nine CD overview that has transpired.
Being as I'm prone to reading newspapers from the back to the front, I applied my idiosyncrasy to the weighty 116-page hardback book and straightaway thought, wow -it's time to hide the hubcaps. The tome (more of an operator's manual to be precise) simply explodes with an utter riot of pictorials. If you can imagine an unpublished rack of colour transparencies that capture not only Johnny but brother Dorsey as well, some alternate angles on the time-honoured Rock n Roil trio glossies, plus a just-discovered bacNtage shot featuring a totally cool looking Cliff Gallup, then you've got some idea of how impactive the photo gallery is. Add to this a profusion of label shots, L.) that include international pressings of You're a Sixteen* and 'Dreamin" stamped with the classic CI! fifties London American logo, and you are embroiled in the essence of what is a quite remarkable journal. TEAR IT UP And so to the music: In his role as the set's reissue producer, NDT's Howard Cockburn has wisely chosen to lead off with the most valuable collateral in Johnny Burnette's legacy - i.e. the Rock n Roll Trio recordings.
A swift 'A'-ing and 'B'-ing up against Bear Family's 1989 single CD compilation of these evergreen titles - the running order has been retained - determines that this new pressing is a great deal punchier. The accom-panying discography has also been tweaked, and it's good to see that Farris Coursey is now being correctly credited as the drummer on the Nashville dates. However, the late Grady Martin has yet to get his just desserts for all the work he did on the sessions. His distinctive sounding flat-wound strings are more than apparent against the twang of Paul Burlison's Telecaster and aside of 'The Train Kept A' Rollin" and 'Honey Hush' - which feature Paul throughout until the close when Grady grabs the last four measures - it's the ace sideman who snags most of the celebrated solos. A pair of live tracks from an Alan Freed stage show radio broadcast, plus Johnny's debut 45 on Von, complete CD 1, the hinged jewel case of which swings back to reveal a salient phase in the escapade - i.e. the move to California. Having made their entrance through Imperial Records as the composers of Ricky Nelson's 'Waitin' In School', Johnny and Dorsey were then thrown an artistic life line when the company san tioned a one-off single using the designatic The Burnette Brothers. The top deck. 'War Love', is high on enthusiasm. although less so the commercial department, as are the thr other titles cut at the same session that here, the West Coast connection to CD 2. Althot_ still writing together.
Dorsey remained with label for a couple of solo singles (not rep sented here), whilst Johnny stopped off at Bennett's recently launched Freedom Recc, before returning to Lew Chudd for one fur' session. The compilers have handled all of to-ing and fro-ing with remarkable ease, and titles in question lead us to two saga-then instrumentals (both of which feature Johnny Dorsey on guitar) mustered under the nam, The Texans. The other side of a previc unissued but neatly executed version by Jot of the standard 'I'll Always Be In Love With we arrive at the dawning of his three-year with Liberty. 'Snuffy' Garrett was assigned producer's chair and (as every act he worked with at the label would attest) he was a sucker for string sections - usually conducted by Ernie Freeman from his vantage point of the piano stool at United Recorders. The account opens with the Garrett strategy being applied to a hoedown swing through 'Settin' The Woods On Fire'. To maintain the chronology, the sequence then shifts to August 1959 and a two-day demo session at Goldstar with Eddie Cochran in tow. On the surface there's nothing startling here, yet the plot thickens when a swift scan of Eddie's recording history shows that it was on these dates, in that very same studio, when he cut 'Guybo', 'Milk Cow Blues' and 'Little Angel'. Fascinating.
DREAMIN' As the new decade dawned, so did the long-awaited hit trail which is documented from CD 3 through to CD 5. Songwriter Barry DeVorzon contributed `Dreamin", although the meat of the song actually came from guitarist Perry Botkin Jnr. using the alias Ted Ellis, a point not mentioned in the text. Whatever, it gave Johnny and the triumvirate at Liberty the breakthrough they were looking for and, as a dependable pop record, it still represents the era extremely well. The single original 'A-side, 'Cincinnati Fireball', remains a highlight and it's intriguing to learn that the guitar licks come courtesy of the under-used Bobby Gibbons. Further goodies during this time include a strident 'Why Don't You Haul Off And Love Me', an excellent reading of 'The Fool' and two arcane Carl Perkins country offerings, 'Fools Like Me' and 'When Today Is a Long Time Ago'. One of the oddities in the Juhnny Burnette story is that it was primarily Liberty (through their new licensee, EMI) who underwrote Johnny's UK tour in the spring of 1962. Then right after he returned home, he split with the company and signed with Chancellor: label loyalty was clearly not in the equation.
Jimmy Bowen A&R'd the round dozen sides that evolved, the best of which make their debut on CD 5 - viz a viz the shuffling 'Old Man In The Country' and a response to Marty Robbins' 'Don't Worry', 'Nobody Could'. When Bowen secured his house gig at Reprise, he later re-fashioned the brothers on the 'billy-ish 'Hey Sue', a dne-off 45 from January '63 which makes its official digital debut here. CD 6 gets underway with Johnny landing at Capitol Records on Vine Street in Hollywood. The deal was brokered through Nik Venet, who was then hot with Bobby Darin - a rarity, being as the company was then in the habit of signing and burying teen figures like Jack Scott, Bobby Rydell and Earl Sinks. Top dog here is the David Gates-produced 'Sweet Suzie', a Berry-stained groover that offers a clue to what the future might hold. In actual fact the horizon presented a shift to total absolution. The independently-funded Sahara and Magic Lamp labels were Johnny's final shots at recording.
He wrote and produced the four songs that made it onto tape, but their emergence as consecutive 45s were, like so much American product in 1964, decimated by all things British. At this point, the sequence mops up various bits and pieces that for some reason don't figure in the main discography. These include 'Keep A' Knockin", a live cut of 'Bony Maronie' and 'Snacky Poo', a demented slice of instro-speak that utilises the backing track to 'Bertha Lou' with an overdubbed tenor sax from Steve Douglas. Dorsey's original vocal version of this classic rocker is included, although the flip, 'Til The Law Says Stop', isn't - probably to avoid too much crossing over twixt the brothers. This CD winds up with a chunk of previously documented inter-views and seasonal messages. THE DEMOS A deep and meaningful breath is necessary before embarking on the final three discs. Even allowing for the fact that both Johnny and Dorsey recorded prolifically during their joint and individual careers, they cut almost as many worktapes in their standing as jingle writers and
songsmiths. A generous quotient of that inventory has been tracked down for this collection and the 'unplugged' side of Johnny and Dorsey is revealed here for the very first time.
Devotees of the Burnettes with their collective collars turned up, will be sated by the majority of what's on show. There's a veritable bopathon taking place across a great many of the titles, including the demo that Ricky Nelson got to hear of 'Believe What You Say'. The confident 'Yes I Do' is a definite cherry pick, as is the boogied-up, pre-production snapshot of 'You're Sixteen'. Boy, the brothers sure could crank out the teenage soap operas and their high school adventures continue right across. CDs 8 and 9. A further example of 'Believe What You Say' sits alongside a rudimentary trot through 'It's Late', whilst for those who are inclined to get their rocks off to unfettered rockabilly, the out-of-metre 'You Gotta Get Ready' will certainly do the business. Colin Escott has supplied a detailed synopsis to complement the music, and he broaches several areas that have previously proved elusive. In amongst his lively storyline, he imparts a couple of delightful anecdotes, such as the occasion when Johnny Burnette was assisting Johnny Cash in his fruitless role as a door-to-door salesman in Memphis.
It seems that the two future stars briefly worked for a company who marketed unbreakable dishes, where they were instructed in the correct approach to a homemaker, plus how they should throw down a saucer to determine the quality of their product. When they arrived at one house and a young mother answered the door, Cash did the spiel whilst Johnny Burnette stood behind him and slammed down a dish. Unfortunately it smashed all over the threshold, scaring the woman half to death. She screamed for her husband who ran out and angrily exclaimed, "You couldn't sell dollar bills for a dime!" I was fortunate in seeing Johnny Burnette on his 1962 UK tour with Gary 'U.S.' Bonds, and I've got to say, the memory lingers on.
He was class. Just in case I've taken to wearing spectacles of a rose-coloured nature, this sumptuous boxology serves as a reminder that although Johnny (and Dorsey) might have grown up on the Presley doorstep, they were unquestionably innovators and hardly imitators. Full marks to all concerned for an eminently solid body of work. All photographs accompanying this article are courtesy of Bear Family Records and are featured in the box-set's book.