Hit Parader, April 1981

Pick Hit Billy Burnette

Lightning Strikes Again as Dorsey's Son Rekindles Family Flame.

by Charley Crespo

"To me, rockabilly is something that started in Memphis a long time ago, a mixture of hillbilly music and rack and roll music," 27-year-old Billy Burnette said. "When I think of rockabilly, I think of my dad and uncle and what they were doing. That was more rockabilly than what I do, although I think I have a lot of that influence in my music. I don't guess there's a whole lot of difference, but they didn't always have a drummer, you know, they'd beat on a box. We have a drummer," he said as he broke off laughing.

Billy was born at the dawn of rock and roll, the son of Dorsey Burnette and nephew of Johnny Burnette, two pioneers in the music form whose beginnings paralleled those of rock and roll and later merged with it. Now, long after Johnny has passed on and about a year after Dorsey's death, Billy Burnette has worked his way out of twenty years of obscurity (at the age of seven, he sang on a record called 'Hey Daddy b/w Santa's Coffee') with a slew of nightclub appearances, a fine self-titled rock and roll album and an ever-growing following.

From the beginning it seemed pretty certain that young Billy would become involved in music. As Bill tells the story, he was just a boy at Brenda Lee's Sweet 16 party when Elvis Presley's business manager, confidante and guiding light, Colonel Tom Parker, sat the boy on his lap and told him, "Billy, don't give up. You're going to make it someday."

"Who was I to doubt the Colonel?" Burnette now jokes.

"I'd known a lot of people as I was growing up, like Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings," he remembers. "I met them all, but meeting them later on was a thrill for me all over again because I never knew who they were when I was a kid. They were hanging out with my old man or we were doing shows with them or whatever, but meeting them later when I was aware..." Billy drifted off for a second in awe.

"I never did meet Elvis Presley," he said. "I was around everyone who knew him, all his best friends and everything. He was always coming out and never made it or I was just missing him in Memphis here and there. I thought, well, shoot, I'd get a chance to meet him and talk to him someday, but it never did come around. I thought he'd be around forever, you know?"

"I think a big thrill was meeting Bob Dylan," he continued, "because when I met Bob, he told me he was a big fan of my dad's, and that my father had written the first ecology song with 'Tall Oak Tree'. He said I had some big shoes to fill."

Billy Burnette now lives in a beach house in southern California, but calls Nashville, Memphis and now New York City his "homes away from home." He stays in touch with his cousin Rocky, who recently hit the pop charts with 'Tired of Toeing the Line'. Billy is single, has a five-year-old son, Dorsey IV, and feels his life is in order now that he has a real band for the first time; previously, he'd worked mostly as a songwriter and sideman, and recorded two albums prior to 'Billy Burnette' using session musicians. Unlike his football playing cousin, Billy was always looking for some kind of success in music, even if it was just enough to coast on for a while.

"Music is all I've ever known," he said adamantly. "That was the only thing going around the house. I hated school. I guess I got kicked out of five high schools; I was acting up because I didn't like school. I wanted to quit and do music but I knew I had to finish for the sake of my brothers and sisters.

"I've never done anything else, though. I've usually just written or been somebody's sideman." He paused. "If I was going to be anything else, I think it would have been a detective," he laughed. "It's a weird thing."

Thanks to Tracy Garner for sending this to us.