Sonny Burgess, The Complete Sun Recordings, Vol. 2

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Fans often insisted Burgess and the Pacers must have been drunk as skunks when they recorded some of their most manic sides, but Sonny always denied it. The only time he'd cop to going into the studio drunk was for the one-off instrumental single "Itchy" b/w "Thunderbird" — and that was not done with his band but with Jack Clement on bass, J.M. Van Eaton on drums, Billy Lee Riley on harmonica and Charlie Rich on piano. Whatever the case, these two sides are more than memorable — "Itchy" (supposedly a "Rumble" spoof) thanks mainly to Riley's crazed harmonica and "Thunderbird" to Burgess 'slash-and-burn guitar.

Flamboyant, rip-roaring rockabilly from a man who never got his due in his day.

Maybe everything during Sonny's later years at Sun wasn't quite as off-the-wall, but his R&B-flavored rockabilly continued to be defined by a supple rhythm section, powerhouse vocals and harsh, bluesy guitar work. On "Tomorrow Night," Joe Lewis joins Burgess on guitar and the results presage the surge and drive of early surf music, while Sonny's scratching on "Tomorrow Never Comes" is especially effective. So's his rip-snorting solo on "Little Town Baby." And his cover of Smiley Lewis '"One Night" not only uses the original lyric's opening line ("One night of sin," sanitized by Elvis in his hit version), but it shows that Burgess was a much better ballad singer than he ever got credit for. The goofing continued to the very end; he introduces "Sadie's Back in Town," the B-side of his very last release, in his best Donald Duck voice. Historical footnote: that's Roy Orbison providing the harmony voice on "Find My Baby for Me."