Monday, March 28, 2011

Sonny Burns on Bear Family

I was pleased to see Bear Family announce on their website that Sonny Burns - A Real Cool Cat: The Starday Recordings is set to be released on May 30. The subtitle is not as explicit as it should be: this is Burns's complete Starday recordings, including eight unissued songs and two alternate takes. There was a Burns bootleg a couple of years back (titled after his worst record, the awful "Satan's A-Waitin'"), and that was better than nothing, but this one will be definitive in every way. All but one or two tracks are taken from the original studio tapes, resulting in a huge improvement to the original vinyl. It turns out Jack Starns' home studio didn't sound so bad after all.

Burns, despite being a big star in Houston and Galveston in the early-to-mid 1950s, didn't leave a whole lot of documentation behind. He lived fast but didn't die young. Unlike the rockabillies, there was no "honky-tonk revival" for people like him later in life, and it appears he got out of music around 1970. The only reason he's mentioned at all in country music history was his brief connection to the young George Jones, but this has been wildly exaggerated -- of the 31 surviving Starday masters by Burns, only two are duets with Jones. Starday cut Sonny loose (or he quit) after his January, 1956, session, so there were no "Thumper" Burns rockabilly singles from him, or Dixie soundalikes.

This release will hopefully recover Burns's true legacy: a formidable interpreter of honky-tonk music who simply never found the right song.