Book Reviews

Billy Burnette: Crazy Like Me

From Memphis to Fleetwood Mac, with a whole lotta crazy in between

Rock and Roll With It!

Imagine that it’s 1953 and you are living in Memphis, Tennessee, in a public housing place called Lauderdale Courts. You’re a new tenant there and go down to the laundry room to do a load of wash. As you approach it, a strange and loud thumping music hits you like a left hook. Next to the Whirlpools, three rough-and-ready guys around 19 or 20 are rehearsing with an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar and a doghouse bass. Their rough edges are not fake, as all three are golden glove boxers among other things. You notice another slightly younger kid hanging around listening to them. No you’re not in a Forrest Gump or Back to the Future movie. Between songs you ask them what they call themselves. They say the Rhythm Rangers (which they would soon change to simply he Rock & Roll Trio ) You don’t bother to ask the kid with the sideburns listening to them anything. In another year ,you would remember his face. In two years you might think of yourself as one of the very first to ever witness a cultural phenomenon being born.

Billy Burnette was born in 1953 and grew up listening and watching his dad Dorsey and uncle Johnny become recording stars and songwriters to many other rock and roll stars like Ricky Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis and get this—his cousin Rocky and his name combined into one of the R&R Trio’s songs called “Rock Billy Boogie,” a title that would morph into a musical style called “rockabilly.” It had to leave more than an impression. It left a wild and crazy, very winding, road to follow.

Now following Billy as he tells his tales (some in great detail, some not) of not just his career, with bands like Fleetwood Mac, artists Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Roger Miller and his own solo efforts, along with his Dad and Uncle’s pioneering careers and the Burnette family triumphs and tragedies, is not that easy with this book. Like the title, it is a crazy quilt of short stories and anecdotes. In spite of the erratic ways they appear and reappear (sometimes more than once) throughout the 259 pages, it might drive a formal book reader crazy. However in the short attention span theatre we all now seem to reside in, you can open to just about any page, start reading and go WHOA! I will say having firsthand knowledge of the Nashville Music Biz, that Billy nails it for what it was and what it has become. A book editor would have come in handy, but the sheer amount of musical icons the Burnettes crossed paths and or worked with over 60 some years, would probably have driven an editor from the building, screaming. Just imagine the task of sorting out tales about, Ricky Nelson, Ray Charles, George Straight, Glen Campbell, Tanya Tucker, Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Ike & Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Beatles, Delaney, Bonnie & Bekka Bramlett, and many more, plus hundreds of label people, studio musicians, songwriters and you can see Billy’s task was daunting.

They say life is like the movies. Vernon Presley once had one line in one of his son’s movies (I believe it was Loving You) where he says to Elvis’s Deke Rivers character (the kid hanging around in that laundry room), “ Let’s go check out those Burnette Boys, I hear they have something going on.” They sure as hell did.

—Ken Spooner

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