Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:00 am
Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:19 pm
News Updated August 21, 2013
JAMES BURTON STILL TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
The guitar legend turns 74 today
Happy Backstreets Birthday wishes go out to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, who turns 74 today and is still going strong. Since 1957, Burton's distinctive guitar-playing with various artists on numerous recordings over the decades has played a major, influential role. When Elvis Presley assembled his TCB (Taking Care of Business) Band for his legendary return to live performing in 1969, James Burton was the first musician whom Elvis approached. Burton continued to perform and record with Presley for the rest of Elvis's life.
We recently caught up with Burton while he was in New York performing several shows at the Iridium Jazz Club and Lincoln Center. Like Bruce Springsteen, Burton remains a lifelong musician, continuing to perform and record both on his own and with others. We were thrilled and honored to present James with an early birthday present: a hard-to-find copy of Backstreets Magazine issue #80 (now out of print), containing our feature on the various connections between Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen and sporting the great "Boss Elvis" photo on the back.
Presenting James Burton with a copy of Backstreets was a way of thanking him, too, for his inspirational role in the recording of the song that gave us our name. As Mike Appel, who co-produced Born to Run, recalled for us back in 1991, "We were doing 'Backstreets' and I said 'Let's try to do an identifiable solo.' So I took [Bruce] into the office and I played 'Hello, Mary Lou' by Ricky Nelson. And James Burton plays the solo. And I pointed out how wonderful that solo was. That prompted the solo on 'Backstreets.'"
We also got to talk a bit with James about the only time to date that he and Bruce Springsteen have performed together: at the 1987 filming of Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black & White Night. That event also fittingly reunited Burton with the other members of the TCB Band for the first time since Elvis Presley’s death. [Above: James Burton, Bruce, and the other Elvis from that night].
"I think Bruce would appreciate this," Burton told us. "One night, Elvis and I were talking, and I said, 'Elvis, if you had to pick or choose one of your favorite singers, someone you really admired for their vocal talent, who would it be? He thought about it for a minute or so and he said, 'Roy Orbison.’ He loved Roy.”
Burton continued, "It was an honor to play with Bruce. Of course, I’ve always loved his music and I was real familiar with his shows and a lot of his songs. Bruce was great. He jumped up there and he knew everything. His timing was perfect; everything was great. When we did 'Pretty Woman' [the final song of the show] for the actual filming, T-Bone [Burnett, A Black & White Night’s musical director] said, 'Roy, when we do 'Pretty Woman,' at the end of it... go back into it and keep playing it, and that'll be for the credits, when the credits are rolling.' So when we got to the end, Roy was all excited, and I wasn't quite sure if he remembered to jump back into it, so I started playing, got back into it, then we all started and the jam-session thing happened. Bruce and I were switchin' licks and had a great time."
For his part, Bruce commented in a post-show interview, "You don't always get a chance to sing harmony with Roy Orbison and play guitar next to James Burton... that's a dream."
Burton's admiration for Springsteen has continued over the years. He recalled catching a performance by Bruce on television that particularly impressed him as a fellow guitarist. "Bruce was so great doing his solo thing... It was so cool to see him in that moment by himself with an acoustic guitar and singing. It was wonderful. He's a great showman. Onstage, he's got so much energy. He's all over the place. Y'know, the great thing about Bruce today and 'Born to Run' is the fact that he's still running. He's still doing it, man, and that's great. And I am, too... I love it."
Burton would love to play again with Bruce sometime, as well. He's even suggested a potential venue: the James Burton International Guitar Festival, an occasional Burton-with-friends event organized to benefit The James Burton Foundation, providing free guitars and music-education programs to recipients in need. Regardless of the venue, however, Burton hopes to "one day jump on the stage with him and Nils and just get down!”
Two other noteworthy Burton/E Street connections: Burton played guitar on Johnny Cash's 1983 album Johnny 99, which contained Cash’s versions of two Springsteen songs: the title track and "Highway Patrolman." (“I love that,” says James of the latter.) Burton also played with Garry Tallent and other famous musicians (including former TCB Bandmates Glen D. Hardin and Ron Tutt) in The Dream Players band assembled for Jim Lauderdale's 2008 album Honey Songs.
For more information on James Burton, visit James-Burton.net.
- August 21, 2013 - reporting and photo of James Burton in NYC by Shawn Poole - photo of Burton, Springsteen and Costello (1987) courtesy of James Burton
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