I’ve written before about how common it was in the early days for rockabilly stars to come from the ranks of country music veterans, but it wasn’t always that way. In at least one case, a guy who was one of the best of the breed seemed to arrive as a natural-born rocker — and he’s still doing it, sixty years later.
Now in his eighties and still active, Albert Austin ‘Sonny’ Burgess originally came out of Arkansas in the mid-1950s, determined to take Memphis by storm. By then he’d already put in a few years gaining experience back home, and Memphis was where guys like Elvis Presley and others were beginning to break out while working with Sun Studios guru Sam Phillips, who knew talent when he saw it. He helped Burgess develop his music and rebuild his little combo into Sonny Burgess and the Pacers.
Led by the charismatic Burgess, the newly-named bunch soon began to find some success. His red hair and flamboyant costumes made him the center of attention when the band went on tour, and his lively performing style soon won over the fans. It wasn’t long before Burgess and the group released their first record, “We Wanna Boogie,” with “Red Headed Woman” on the ‘B’ side. Both were written by Burgess and served notice that he was here to stay.
Unfortunately, as popular as Sonny Burgess and the Pacers were on tour, they seemed to miss the boat on national fame. And even though they cut a lot of good records — their rendition of “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” is outstanding — they were seldom able to do well on the charts. But even though Burgess ultimately dissolved the original group, he stayed active through the years, often performing for appreciative fans in Europe or touring the U.S. with bands like the Sun Rhythm Section. Eventually he was able to see his original Pacers inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, and it was about then that he formed a new ‘Legendary Pacers’ for the oldies circuit. A successful new record album soon followed, and he has continued to entertain fans ever since.