August 28, 2017 – Sonny Burgess was born Albert Austin Burgess on May 28, 1929 on a farm near Newport, Arkansas to Albert and Esta Burgess. He graduated from Newport High School in 1948.
Burgess, Kern Kennedy, Johnny Ray Hubbard, and Gerald Jackson formed a boogie-woogie band they called the Rocky Road Ramblers and played boogie woogie music in dance halls and bars around Newport.
In 1954, following a stint in the US Army (1951–53), Burgess re-formed the band, calling them the Moonlighters after the Silver Moon Club in Newport, where they performed regularly. After advice from record producer Sam Phillips, the group expanded to form the Pacers.
The band’s first record was “We Wanna Boogie” in 1956 for Sun Records, in Memphis, about 80 miles southeast of his birthplace. The flip side was “Red Headed Woman.” Both were written by Burgess. The songs have been described as “among the most raucous, energy-filled recordings released during the first flowering of rock and roll.”
Sonny and the Pacers played clubs, festivals, shows, and colleges all over the US and Canada. They were one of the pioneers of rock and roll and traveled with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Danny and the Juniors, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Ronnie Hawkins, Billy Lee Riley, Ace Cannon, Charlie Rich, Teddy Riedell, Narvel Felts, and many more.
Their onstage antics in performance were similarly described. Like other artists such as Ray Harris, Hayden Thompson, Billy Lee Riley and Warren Smith, chart success largely eluded him. Burgess disbanded the group in 1971, but later found a new audience in Europe.
Burgess was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of Europe in May of 1999. His group, now called The Legendary Pacers, became a hit that same year in a rockabilly concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. They recorded Still Rockin’ and Rollin’ in 2000, voted the best new album in the country and roots field in Europe. The group was inducted in 2002 into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Sonny Burgess & The Legendary Pacers performed at the 2006 National Folk Festival in Richmond, Virginia. They have played all over the world such as Japan, Australia, Europe, and Canada. They have played the Lincoln Center in New York, the Library Of Congress and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. They played the Montana Folk Festival, Bangor, Maine Folk Festival, Richmond VA Folk Festival, and appeared with the Million Dollar Quartet in Chicago, IL.
Burgess hosted a weekly radio program called We Wanna Boogie with co-host June Taylor. The program, named after his first record, aired on Sunday nights from 5-7pm Central Time on 91.9FM KASU in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Sonny Burgess died from complications after a fall on August 18, 2017, at the age of 88.
The pioneering rockabilly guitarist and singer recorded 18 albums in a lifetime of rockabilly.
Country Rock (1969)
The Old Gang (1976)
We Wanna Boogie (1984)
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers (1985)
Raw Deal (1986)
We Wanna Boogie (Best-of compilation) (1989)
I’m Still Here (1990)
The Razorback Rock & Roll Tapes (with Bobby Crafford) (1992)
Tennessee Border (with Dave Alvin) (1992)
Hittin’ That Jug (Best-of compilation) (1995)
Sonny Burgess Has Still Got It (1996)
God’s Holy Light (1997)
Tupelo Connection (2001)
Back to Sun Records (2003)
Tear It Up! (2006)
Gijon Stomp! (2009)
Live at Sun Studios (2012)