For years, there has been a debate in the rockabilly world: Who played guitar on the Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio recordings? This debate can go on for days among the guitar geeks of the modern era.
The short version of the story is that Paul Burlison was the guitar player in the band, and he always claimed that he was the guitar player on all the Rock and Roll Trio recordings. I was friends with Paul, and he was a great guy and a great guitarist. So any discussion of this is not meant to insult the memory of my departed friend. However, I think it’s important to get at the truth.
Here’s what I have always believed: Paul Burlison played on the first session, in New York City—the session that recorded such rockabilly classics as “Tear It Up,” “You’re Undecided” and “Oh Baby Babe.” Paul played a Fender Esquire, and it SOUNDS like a Fender Esquire on those recordings. Pure twangy and thin Fender treble pickup sound.
The rest of the recordings by the band were done in Nashville. The guitar tone (and the licks and phrasing) are all remarkably different than the New York sessions. It is my belief that Grady Martin played lead guitar on these recordings, Bob Moore played bass, and Buddy Harman played drums—the Nashville “A Team” of session musicians in the 1950s and 1960s. We don’t know exactly why producer Owen Bradley didn’t have Dorsey Burnette play bass or Paul Burlison play guitar, but if you really listen to those records, it’s pretty obvious that it is Grady Martin on lead guitar. Check out this link to read further on this debate: http://www.the-jime.dk/Rockabilly_Guitar/Johnny_Burnette_The_Rock-n-Roll_Trio.htm
There was always one thing that eluded a clear answer, though. Was it Grady or Paul who played the strange and distorted octave-doubled leads on the two craziest records that the Johnny Burnette Trio ever laid down: “Honey Hush” and the inimitable “Train Kept a Rollin’?” Again, Paul always insisted it was him, even coming forth with a story about how a tube in his Fender Tweed Deluxe became loose, making his amp get a crazy, distorted sound. Many of those who believe that Grady Martin played lead guitar on such Trio recordings as “Lonesome Tears in My Eyes” or “Lonesome Train” still believed that it was Paul who played the octave-doubled parts on “Train Kept Aa Rollin’” and “Honey Hush.”
No…it was Grady.
Chris Scruggs, known as “The Professor” in his role as bass player for Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives, sent me this obscure Stonewall Jackson tune yesterday. What a find! I had never heard this gem. There it was, in early 1960s Nashville Countrypolitan form: Grady Martin playing the same octave-doubled parts, the same minor-third and root back-and-forth (to quote the Professor). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY0oheh87dw
There’s another record, too: the York Brothers “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby,” recorded at Owen Bradley’s studio right around the same time as the Johnny Burnette Trio recordings—you can hear Grady Martin slip into the “Octaves” thing, not quite as full-bore as the Burnette recordings, but there it is, as plain as day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6ZIc51pUTg
Hearing this early 1960s Stonewall Jackson cut just confirms, once and for all, that it was Grady who played that crazy octave-doubling part on the Johnny Burnette Trio recordings of “Train Kept a Rollin’” and “Honey Hush,” licks that would be duplicated by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and beyond (the Yardbirds’ version of “Train’ Kept a Rollin’” became an oft-covered standard in the late 1960s and 1970s rock scene). All played by the same guy, Grady Martin, who also played soft and gentle lead guitar on tracks like “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, and “Saginaw, Michigan” by Lefty Frizzell. Those were some talented—and versatile—fingers!
Thanks again to Chris Scruggs for this find. It’s truly remarkable! Links to the York Brothers track and the Johnny Burnette tracks in the comments.