This week on Music City Roots, we revisit a performance by one of the hottest new retro-soul bands around, St. Paul and The Broken Bones. In addition, we include a sensational set by Billy Burnette with guitarist Kenny Vaughan. Rounding out the lineup are Reed Foehl, Erick Baker, and Gwyneth & Monko, all from the legendary Loveless Cafe in Nashville, TN. It’s an amazing archived show that will be part of MCR’s public television series this fall nationwide. Tune in for some great tunes and a musical education!
About the headliners:
In order to make an inaugural South by Southwest trek with his band St. Paul and the Broken Bones earlier this month, frontman Paul Janeway had to give up some things. He’d bought tickets for Nick Cave’s Ryman show the moment they went on sale, but — since he couldn’t magically be in Austin and Nashville at the same time — those went to a Cave fan who’d actually be able to use them. And since his request for the time off from work had been denied, he left for the festival knowing he’d no longer have a day job as a bank teller to come back to.
“There have been times,” says Janeway, “where I’ve been like, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t have any money.’ You know, you just get worried. You just get scared. The thing is, though, I feel like I wouldn’t have just done it for any band. I feel like we’ve got something really good going on.”
Up until recently, the Birmingham, Ala.-based singer was both working at the bank and belatedly trying to finish his accounting degree so he could, as he puts it, “get a big-boy job.” Janeway had made the grown-up choice to relegate his love of music to extracurricular status. He definitely didn’t foresee a day when he’d be in a buzz band that shares a manager with Jason Isbell and has an in-the-can album produced by Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner.
About nine months ago, Janeway and his longtime collaborator Jesse Phillips went into the studio to fool around with song ideas on their own dime; they emerged with not just a four-song EP but a freshly formed band whose musical identity was rapidly coalescing around its most potent instrument: Janeway’s voice. The Broken Bones might’ve leaned toward psychedelic classic rock, or something stylistically closer to the Shakes’ alt-rock ‘n’ soul, if not for the fact that Janeway is plainly a soul shouter, and a magnetic one at that. The sound they found, and continue to tweak and tighten, is that of a Southern soul horn band with a keen, kinetic rhythmic attack.
The Broken Bones were aware of what the Shakes were up to, considering both bands are from the same state and Bones guitarist Browan Lollar is pals with Tanner. But beyond that, the Bones didn’t realize just how good their timing is. They’ve arrived on the scene at a moment when tons of their twenty-something peers are gravitating toward music that does away with ironic distance and engages the body, toward performers who view putting themselves out there with panache — entertaining, in other words — as part of their artistry.
It’s nothing for Janeway to work up a sweat before the band even gets through the first song. He’ll stalk around, shake his fists, do a sort of Holy Ghost jitterbug and dive to his knees like the original Hardest Working Man in Show Business. When the Broken Bones played their second Nashville show at The Basement (Music City Roots was the first to book them, and this Basement date will be their fourth appearance in town), he jumped off the stage and came right out to meet the crowd; when they played Mad Donna’s Loft, he climbed onto Lollar’s amp. Already his persona is too big to be confined to a small club stage. That’s gotta be one reason he digs the walloping characters conjured by Nick Cave and Tom Waits.
“We one time played a pizza joint in Farragut, Tennessee,” says Janeway. “I stood up on one of the pizza tables where they were eatin’. I think that blew their minds. I think they thought, ‘Oh man. This guy might not be hittin’ notes right, but he’s sure givin’ ‘em something.’ ”
Vocally, Janeway gives even more, with his enflamed timbre, his thrilling, bob-and-weave phrasing and his ecstatic outbursts. He was brought up in a small-town Alabama Pentecostal church, and it shows, though not necessarily in the simplistic way that people assume. Church was where Janeway learned how to spontaneously perform — or perform spontaneity — how to fantastically and demonstratively throw himself into the moment and move people to respond. The fact that it’s an approach he’s cultivated doesn’t mean it’s cynical or devoid of emotion; it’s what helps him give ‘em something night after night. A vinyl collector, Janeway’s also taken cues from scintillating recordings by gospel groups like The Mighty Clouds of Joy and Memphis soul singers like O.V. Wright. (He’s said that another Memphis singer, James Carr, is the reason he wears a suit and bow tie onstage.)
“The guys get kinda mad at me sometimes,” laughs Janeway, “because I’ll be kinda spontaneous. I’ll go off somewhere vocally. The beauty is they’re so good that they can keep me in the ring. I definitely feel like that’s a skill, because first off, you’ve gotta be ballsy enough to do it. … I don’t know how good or bad I am at it. The one skill I will give myself credit for is I can read a crowd pretty well. When I preached and spoke [in church], it’s just something you have to develop. You gotta figure out, ‘Where can I go with this? How far can it go?’ ”
Billy Burnette is the epitome of a rock star – he exudes talent, good looks, and the rock star aura wherever he goes and understandably so, given his journey as a musician, singer, songwriter, guitarist.
Born in Memphis, singer/songwriter/guitarist, Dorsey William Burnette III (aka Billy Burnette) spent most of his youth in the presence of father Dorsey and uncle Johnny (of the legendary Rock and Roll Trio). The Trio made the Rockabilly name famous by combining the name Billy and his cousin Rocky for the 1953 “Rockabilly Boogie” – thus making the term Rockabilly a household name.
The legendary Rock and Roll Trio influenced a diverse array of Rock icons including: the Elvis, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, and Ricky Nelson. Elvis used to spend many evenings jamming with the band in the Lauderdale Courts laundry room. Recounts Billy: “I met Paul McCartney once and he said that the Trio were one of his and John’s (Lennon’s) influences – nobody was making music like that back then.”
It’s not surprising given his upbringing that Billy’s list of accomplishments in the music arena is both impressive and diverse. Billy has amassed four decades of experience recording music, writing songs, and performing since embarking upon his career at age 7.
His first single, a Christmas song, “Hey Daddy” was recorded on Dot Records. When he was only 11, Billy recorded several songs for A&M Records, including one from Dr. Seuss titled “Just Because We’re Kids,” which Herb Albert produced and played trumpet on. By 13, the young Burnette was entertaining the troops with Brenda Lee in the Far East.
But it wasn’t until he was 15 or 16 that Billy picked up a guitar and began writing songs. Heavily influenced by the Beatles, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, and his dad’s music, Billy learned the songwriting craft from some of the greats. “It’s really funny because I grew up thinking that everyone wrote songs. I mean my dad did it, my uncle did it…”
At 18, Billy Burnette was only a week out of high school when he recorded his Columbia Records album with famed Memphis hit-making producer Chips Moman (“Suspicious Minds” and “In the Ghetto” for Elvis as well as multiple hits for the likes of Aretha Franklin and BJ Thomas).
In his early 20’s, Billy played guitar for Roger Miller as well as for his father, Dorsey Burnette. Meanwhile, Billy also continued his solo career, which included recording records and writing for such hit makers as Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Eddy Raven, and many more.
In 1980, Billy Burnette made the biggest solo record recording deal in history with Columbia Records. Shortly after signing on with Columbia Records, Burnette met Mick Fleetwood (of Fleetwood Mac) at an “American Bandstand” party. The two musicians became fast friends and formed the band Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo in 1983.
The Zoo was a Hollywood star-studded jam band, which was sometimes joined by artists such as Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, Bob Seger, Eddy Van Halen and others. During that time, Burnette continued to expand his solo career. He constantly penned new tunes while introducing Country music to a new sound.
By 1985, Burnette signed on with MCA/Curb. During that year, Billy was nominated as “Best New Male Vocalist” by the Academy of Country Music in competition against Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, and T. Graham Brown.
His promising Country music career took a sudden turn with one phone call. Burnette tells the story: “I was in an LA studio with Roy Orbison cutting a song I’d written, “Dream You,” for the Mystery Girl album when Mick (Fleetwood) called and asked me to join Fleetwood Mac.” With a number one record worldwide and a sold out world tour, Billy began his journey as a member of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Burnette toured with Fleetwood Mac between 1987-1995 and appears on such records as: The Chain, Fleetwood Mac/Greatest Hits, Behind the Mask and The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac.
At the height of his Fleetwood Mac stint, Billy’s songs were being recorded by such famed artists as: Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Cher, Faith Hill, and Greg Allman.
Billy’s natural good looks and ease on stage did not go unnoticed in Hollywood. Burnette landed parts in several feature films including: Richy Rich, The Addams Family Reunion, Casper and Wendy, Not Like Us, and the leading role in Saturday Night Special, which featured Burnette’s songs throughout the film.
Later, Burnette returned to Nashville and landed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, for whom he recorded the aptly named Coming Home. With Coming Home, Burnette re-entered the Country charts with the hit “Tangled Up in Texas.”
Burnette then teamed up with Bekka Bramlett, also of Fleetwood Mac association, to record Bekka and Billy. The Bekka and Billy record was well-received by music fans, artists, and critics alike.
During this period, around 2003, Billy co-wrote a tune for Bonnie Raitt and Ray Charles called “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.” This tune appeared on the album Genius Loves Company, which was the last studio album recorded and completed by Charles. Genius Loves Company garnered 10 grammy nominations and won Album of the Year.
In 2006, Billy Burnette recorded one of the most revered Rockabilly albums of his career, Memphis in Manhattan. Memphis was recorded “live” in Manhattan at St. Peter’s Church. Burnette thrived on the live approach to recording: “Doing it live brings out a certain energy in you, because you know you’re under the gun and you have to get it right then and there. And there’s something to be said for that. It was pretty wild. I had a lot of fun recording this record…it was a great experience, and it’s something I’m really proud of overall.”
On Memphis, Burnette not only recorded several original tunes – five of which were written with friend Shawn Camp (a successful songwriter and Bluegrass recording artist), but also payed tribute to his father and uncle, by recording “It’s Late” and “Tear it Up.” In addition, Burnette recorded an Everly Brothers classic, “Bye, Bye Love,” and a song made popular by none other than Burnette’s own Memphis neighbor, Elvis: “Big Hunk of Love.”
In 2007, Billy collaborated with Shawn Camp on the album Bluegrass Elvises Vol. 1, which rose to the Top 5 on the Americana charts.
A collaboration with Shawn Camp and Dennis Morgan became the hit song “River of Love.” George Strait recorded the tune for his 2008 album Troubador, and “River of Love” went on to become Strait’s 44th Number One hit single.
In 2009, Billy had a song he co-wrote entered into the Eurovision Song Contest. The song was performed by Tone Damli Aaberge and went on to reach Number One on Norway’s music charts. Billy was also awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia.
In the last few years, Billy Burnette contributed his talents as a guitar player and singer on tours with legendary musicians Bob Dylan and John Fogerty. Additionally, Burnette has also collaborated regularly with the Mick Fleetwood Band.
And so, that brings Billy Burnette’s incredible musical journey up to the present. Where to from here? Billy continues to write, record and perform. He has a number of projects in the works including a new solo album. Despite over 40 years of making and sharing his songs with the world, Burnette’s musical journey is far from over.