Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rock And Roll Trio

Ok, 1-2-3, what’s the most generic name we can come up with? Even in 1957, when rock and roll was a relatively new phenomenon, a name like Rock And Roll Trio didn’t exactly insinuate itself into your mind with its originality. Of course, this kind of thing can work by its very perversity (think of The Band) but that didn’t seem to happen with these guys. In fact, their very name is subject to a high level of uncertainty; they were known variously as The Rock And Roll Trio, The Johnny Burnette Trio, and The Johnny Burnette Rock And Roll Trio.

Burnette was the lead singer; he was accompanied on bass and sometimes vocal by his brother Dorsey Burnette, and on lead guitar by Paul Burlison. It was Burlison whose contribution has been most celebrated by subsequent generations. And there was always a drummer on hand, so it was never just the trio that one heard on the recordings.

Johnny Burnette, who died young (in 1964 at the age of 30), had a brief second career after the demise of the trio, as a teen idol (Dreamin’, You’re Sixteen). Dorsey had a brief career at the same time, but he never developed as clear an identity. Johnny’s death hit him hard; his career took a nose dive and it never really recovered. And Burlison, he retired from music in 1960, and stayed out until 1980, after which he embarked on various and sundry musical projects.

This was a double album that I rented from Red River Books. They had this system, you’d take an album, pay $1.00, and keep it for 2 days. I think it was 2 days. Anyway, it’s a pretty comprehensive collection.

The Rock And Roll Trio:

Tear It Up – Their first single. Johnny sings about dancing like his life depends on it. Typical of what’s to follow.
You’re Undecided – All the frustration of a non-commital partner, in 2 minutes of rockabilly
Oh Baby Babe – A variation of Let’s Play House, with the repeated refrain of “baby baby baby” sounding like some rockabilly version of speaking in tongues.
Midnight Train – Desolation, Memphis rock and roll style. Just from the first couplet we imagine the lonesome train station in the middle of the night, the rain pouring, the wind blowing, none of which happens to be in the actual lyrics. And only gets worse from there…
Shattered Dreams – With a full orchestra, here is where Johnny Burnette sounds like the guy who’d record You’re Sixteen a few years hence.
The Train Kept A Rollin’ – This music is so extreme that what on the surface is a straightforward love song becomes a kind of manic obsession. Burlison’s guitar on this track is legendary, supposedly the first deliberate use of feedback, but as often as I listen, I don’t hear it. Famously covered by The Yardbirds, and less famously by The Nazz.
Blues Stay Away From Me – There is so much energy here that the blues couldn’t get near in a million years. Harmony singing on this one.
All By Myself – Not the Eric Carmen song.
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee – A cover of the Stick McGhee song from 1949. Cf Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, which is a great example of how rockabilly versions of the same song can be radically different.
Chains Of Love – Not, apparently, the Pat Boone song, and definitely not The Cookies song, but the same idea as both. This one is decidedly blues.
Honey Hush – Originally by Joe Turner (Shake, Rattle & Roll), but it’s the Trio’s version that makes it one of the most covered of their songs; Paul McCartney recorded it solo on Run Devil Run. The song is no holds barred message to a woman who just can’t keep her mouth shut.
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes - The Beatles recorded it and it’s on their BBC album. This group did all these sad songs, but they were never sad. There was too much jubilation in their delivery
I Just Found Out – He got what he wanted and everything went to hell. What he found out was “you’ve been cheating.” A song about the world falling apart.
Please Don’t Leave Me – The Fats Domino song. The Fontane Sisters do this, but these guys leave them at the starting gate. Johnny sings oo oo oo like he’s reading it off a lyric sheet, but then he takes off with the lyrics proper and soars. If she leaves him after this, man, she must be deaf.
Rock Therapy – A great idea, we have cognitive therapy, art therapy, I’m sure there is music therapy, so why not rock therapy. Let’s do it! • Rockabilly Boogie – A kind of would-be anthem.
Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track) – Midnight Train redux, sort of…
Sweet Love On My Mind – Nothing sweet about this really, unless romping feel-good dance-your-head-off rockabilly is “sweet”…
My Love You’re A Stranger – Female chorus on this, very post Trio.
I Love You So – Another one with the chorus, tinkly piano, and laid back teenage pop approach.
Your Baby Blue Eyes – Back in the groove. Can’t resist…
Touch Me – Not The Doors song. One of the weirder ones in their canon. A lover’s touch invested with almost mystical powers, and it’s all in Johnny’s vocal.
If You Want It Enough – The song is about love, but you know it could apply to anything.
Butterfingers – A novelty song, more or less. A hit on the Canadian charts in the fall of 1957.
Eager Beaver Baby – A relationship needs the right balance of closeness and distance. This is a song about what happens when it goes off, though it all seems to come our okay in the end…

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