Friday, August 22, 2008

Son Of A Legend Refuses To Toe The Line

With a family pedigree that screamed rock and roll, it was no surprise when Rocky Burnette hit the top of the Australian charts during 1980 with his pop-rockabilly style number ‘Tired Of Toein The Line’.

The singer/guitarist is the son of rock and roll legend Johnny Burnette. Johnny had a string of U.S. Top 20 hits in the early 60s including ‘Dreamin’ and ‘You’re Sixteen’. Tragically he was killed in a boatin
g accident in California in 1964. Prior to launching a solo career Johnny Burnette had been in a trio with his brother Dorsey and Paul Burlinson, called appropriately enough the Rock ‘N Roll Trio in the mid to late 50s. Though falling short of commercial success themselves, they are credited with being a strong influence on the likes of Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. Their song ‘Rock Billy Boogie’ is the acknowledged inspiration behind the whole rockabilly movement.

No surprise then that son Rocky was a devotee of rock and roll from an early age. With cousin Billy Burnette (son of Dorsey) in tow, he soon followed in his father’s musical footsteps. Billy Burnette also had a moderately successful solo career and was guitarist/vocalist with Fleetwood Mac from 1987 to 1993 (I was fortunate enough to see Fleetwood Mac live during this period on their ‘Behind The Mask’ tour in 1990 - Billy Burnette shared the Lindsey Buckingham vocal parts with Rick Vito).

Rocky Burnette released his debut album, the aptly named ‘The Son Of Rock And Roll’ (OZ#41/US#53) in 1979. The first single released ‘Angel In Chambray’ missed the charts but the second would be a global hit. ‘Tired Of Toein The Line’, which featured fellow rockabilly devotee Dave Edmunds (see future post) on
guitar, didn’t exactly set the British charts alight (#58), but when it was released in Australia in March 1980 the track exploded overnight. ‘Tired Of Toein The Line’ spent a total of 26 weeks inside the Australian charts, including two weeks at #1 during June 1980. It debuted on the U.S. charts during May 1980 and peaked at #8 a few weeks later. Rocky Burnette was soon appearing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Solid Gold and The Midnight Special, not to mention Australia’s very own Countdown.

The follow up single ‘
Fallin’ In Love (Bein’ Friends)’ also rocketed Rocky up the Australian charts to a peak position of #6 in mid ‘80. However, around the same time Rocky Burnette’s U.S. label EMI America shut up shop and so no more singles were released from the album ‘The Son Of Rock And Roll’ Stateside. To make matters worse Rocky Burnette’s follow up album ‘Heart Stopper’ (1981) was shuffled off to a subsidiary label of rival MCA, receiving very little promotional support, and as a consequence the incredible momentum Rocky Burnette had established in the previous twelve months ground to a halt.

Finding himself without a record deal didn’t dissuade Rocky Burnette from continui
ng a strong touring schedule throughout the 80s. He toured Europe with the final line-up of his late father’s rock and roll trio, featuring Paul Burlinson on guitar, Johnny Black (Billy Burnette’s brother) on upright bass and Tony Austin on drums. This was around the time that the legendary Stray Cats (see future post) were at the peak of their popularity, pushing rockabilly firmly into the contemporary public consciousness. Rocky Burnette and The Rock ‘N Roll Trio released the album ‘Get Hot Or Go Home’ on the back of that successful tour, featuring a mix of covers and original material. Sadly the album didn’t find a niche in the competitive U.S. market of the mid 80s, and once again Rocky Burnette found himself label-less, with a second album of recorded material never released.

Over a decade lapsed before Rocky Burnette resurfaced with 1996’s ‘Tears It Up’, but remarkably the label behind the album Core, also went bankrupt around the same time, once
again stymieing any chance of success. Burnette continued to collaborate with other artists during the same period, including Rosie Flores and Dwight Twilley, and wrote the song ‘You Got Away With Love’ for Percy Sledge (a 1997 European hit for the soul legend).

The last decade has seen Rocky Burnette continue to tour the States and Europe on a regular basis, also recording the albums ‘Hip Shakin’ Baby: A Tribute To Johnny And Dorsey Burnette’ (2002), and ‘Wampus Cat’ (2007).

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