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Albert "Sonny" Burgess (1929 - 2017)

Getty / Redferns / Ebet Roberts

Albert "Sonny" Burgess (1929 - 2017)

Sonny Burgess, a rockabilly singer and guitarist who was among the last of the Sun Records early rock 'n' roll artists, died Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, at a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 88.

In July, Burgess was hospitalized after he took a fall at his home. He had been an active performer up to that point.


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Albert Austin "Sonny" Burgess was born May 28, 1929, in Newport, Arkansas, about 84 miles northeast of Little Rock. He first started playing boogie-woogie music in bars and other venues in his hometown with his friends Kern Kennedy, Johnny Ray Hubbard, and Gerald Jackson. They called themselves the Rocky Road Ramblers.

Burgess served three years in the U.S. Army. After serving, he resumed playing with his band in 1954, this time as the Moonlighters. They later became the Pacers when they first recorded music at Sun Records.

In 1956, the band recorded the single "We Wanna Boogie," which Burgess wrote. The B side was another Burgess composition, "Red Headed Woman." Burgess' high-pitched, coarse vocals, and skilled musicianship, coupled with the band's raucous onstage energy, at times rivaled the performances of Sun Records legend Jerry Lee Lewis. The fame Lewis later enjoyed, however, escaped Burgess and other first-generation rockers such as Billey Lee Riley and Warren Smith.

After the Pacers broke up in 1971, Burgess and his backing musicians found appreciative audiences in the U.K. In 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of Europe.

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