The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 September 2003

Tear it up

As band names go, "The Rock 'n' Roll Trio" is simultaneously humbly generic and spit-in-the-eye arrogant, which makes it a very fine name indeed.

The Trio — Paul Burlison and brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette — coalesced in Memphis in the early Fifties. Their wild rockabilly sound might have been ideal for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, but they chose to try their luck on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and the New York exposure got them a contract with Coral Records, where they waxed a couple of dozen sides whose influence far outstripped their sales.

The most influential of those tracks was their reworking of a jump blues by Tiny Bradshaw. "The Train Kept A-Rollin'", issued on Coral 61719 in 1956, was fast and furious, and Paul Burlison's guitar produced some of the most amazing distortion products in the history of fuzztone. It was an accident, of course: he'd dropped the amplifier while setting up, one of the tubes wound up loose in its socket, and he liked the sound so much that thereafter he'd tweak the tubes beforehand just to make sure they were loose.

The Trio didn't last — the Burnette brothers sustained middling solo careers afterwards, and Burlison got a, um, real job — but during the British Invasion, it seemed that every guitar player had memorized Burlison's licks, with the quintessential tribute being the Yardbirds' damned-near-as-wild cover of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'".

Johnny Burnette died in 1964, Dorsey in 1979. Paul Burlison made it all the way to yesterday; he died at home in Horn Lake, Mississippi, just over the state line from Memphis. He was 74.

Posted at 11:19 AM to Tongue and Groove


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