by Jim Dees
At age 85, Sonny Burgess may be the oldest guest we’ve ever had on The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour. He’s definitely the oldest rock and roller.
“I like fast music,” he recently told NPR. “You need to be able to dance to it.”
Burgess is from Newport, Arkansas and formed his first band there in the early 1950s as an alternative to picking cotton. “I really wanted to play baseball,” he recalled for an interviewer, “but I couldn’t hit the curve.” Sonny and the Moonlighters played clubs with names like Mike’s 67 Club and Porky’s Roof Top Lounge. On the club circuit, they interacted with names that would become legendary in American music, from Elvis and Carl Perkins to Louis Armstrong and the Dorsey Brothers.
“Carl Perkins used to say that Elvis was so pretty, he wanted to kiss him every time he saw him,” Sonny laughs. In 1956, Burgess and the band had a bona-fide hit single with “Red Headed Woman” and the flip side, “We Wanna Boogie,” both written by Burgess.
Sonny dyed his hair red to match his red Fender guitar and wore matching red suits. If his songs were raucous and rocking – “Red Headed Woman” can still get the party started – the Moonlighters, soon changed to the Pacers – became known for their wild – if not acrobatic – stage shows.
“We were young and full of vinegar,” Sonny has said. “Three of us used to ride the bass fiddle around the dance floor.” Other reports claim Sonny and the Pacers would sometimes form a human pyramid – while continuing to play.
What is certain is that Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers ARE STILL PLAYING, some 62 years after first coming together. We don’t expect any bass-riding or pyramid-building this Thursday night at the Lyric but there’s a good chance some boogie could break out.
“It’s been a wonderful trip,” Sonny says. “I hope it goes on another 100 years.”
The day after their Thacker appearance, Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers will perform at Proud Larry’s on Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 pm. A documentary film about Sonny Burgess, “The Arkansas Wild Man, ” will be shown at the Oxford Film Festival on Saturday, Feb 18 at 3:45pm at the Malco Commons. Details: http://oxfordfilmfest.com/schedule-2015/.