Sonny Burgess, We Wanna Boogie
Sonny Burgess

My song "We Wanna Boogie" was inspired by what we did in Newport, Arkansas, on a Saturday night. Elvis played the clubs there, near Memphis, and so did I. Back then, you could go up to Elvis or anybody else and just talk. The crowds really got into the music then. They were there to have a good time. I was playing country music back in the '50s, as well as stuff by Joe Turner and Jimmy Reed. So much feeling there. And I did Hank William's songs too. Nobody could beat them, not even today. Of course, Elvis came along and we all decided we also wanted to be rockers. We had three clubs in Newport then. I first saw him at Porky's Roof Top, playing with Scotty and Bill. Man, they knocked me out! "That's All Right" had just been released on Sun Records about that time, when our band was playing songs by Moon Mullican, Merrill Moore and Hank.

So we sat down and decided to start playing rock, about '56, a little after Elvis' first records came out. He was real hot by then. A group of us formed The Pacers and I wrote "Boogie" and "Red Headed Woman." We were considered pretty wild and animated then, but we would be tame today. We had what I would call a three-ring circus on stage. We laid down on the big old bass, straddled each other, and did the bug dance. Ever hear of it? It was fun. The bug dance is when you're itchin' and scratchin', and each musician acts like he's throwing a bug on another guy. Then he throws it into the corner, into the crowd. Then the band jumps into the crowd and sings. One time, we did the bug dance and my guitar hit me right in the mouth. What days those were. So much energy, so much fun. That is a time in history that we will never see again, in my opinion. That's before things got so wild. We had fun, but it was the right kind of fun on stage.

We guys on Sun Records were just poor boys, so playing music was fun for us. Getting paid, well, that was the icing on the cake for us. In those days, the one thing I was really good at was picking musicians. Man, I had some good ones, too. Most people don't realize that I played my own guitar. I'd play rhythm, then switch to lead. On record, though, the guitar part dropped out while I made the quick switch. These days, people ask me what it was like to be on Sun in those crazy times. They remember me, for some reason. Everybody talks about my red hair, about my red this and my red that. How that happened was I had a candy apple red guitar, the first ever made by Fender, a Stratocaster. Then I had a red suit and black tux pants. My red hair came about when we toured with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and whoever else we happened to hook up with. One day I tried to put peroxide on my hair to turn it white, and for some reason my hair came out red. So I was stuck with it for a time. That image of me has somehow stuck over time, too. Anyway, in those days we didn't even know how to record. Nobody ever told us what to do. We just played as if we were playing for a crowd. We thought we were big record stars then, but we were really only known in our home areas. Sun did have a few stars, the rest of us were just a bunch of local players. Now, after we're all past the prime of our lives, we're getting some attention. In 1960, I got out of the business altogether. Some vocalists wanted the band to go to California. I didn't want to. Since then, I've been working at a company - well, since the '70s - and playing a little music on the side. We tour with some other Memphis fellows in the Original Sun Rhythm Section. We may never be big stars, but then, who knows? We made a little money and had a good time.

We Wanna Boogie with Sonny Burgess: 

Radio Program hosted by Sonny Burgess: 

Sonny Burgess Newport, Arkansas - February, 1987