Song Of The Week: “Honey Hush” by The Johnny Burnette Trio

Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty.

The pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll mainstream music scene of the early 1950s made for a fairly bland and homogenous listening experience. The Billboard Pop chart found itself populated by, seemingly, only 40 people, almost entirely white, singing a repertory consisting of, seemingly, nothing but ballads (the grown-ups most likely wanted nothing that disturbed the peace in the years after World War II), and everyone recorded the same selection of songs, with 10 versions of each tune fighting for supremacy each year. Variety was in short supply and everyone lived in the unblinking, unthinking Matrix….

until the red pill of Rock ‘n’ Roll set the children free!

Welcome to the raw, untamed, unhinged music parents loved to hate (which only made it all the more great). The newly exploding teen scene needed a music of its own and it chose what all teens choose: rebellion! The post-war kids, especially in America, had two luxuries no prior generation was lucky enough to have — time and money, and they spent both on rock ‘n’ roll.

So what kind of people created the sounds that drove the kids wild? Well, these guys helped.

Johnny Burnette and his brother Dorsey grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and made their first money as amateur boxers before moving on to the only slightly less dangerous profession of barge-workers on the Mississippi River. Everything they did was tough and sweaty. Little wonder then that after forming a trio and moving to New York City in 1956, then almost immediately winning Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour three times in a row and scoring a recording contract as a result, the music they recorded was also tough, sweaty, and not in the least bit fit for parental enjoyment.

None of their early singles reached the charts, but their second 45 proved highly influential, especially during the British blues boom of the mid-1960s. “Train Kept A-Rollin'” was covered by The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith, among others, and the ultra distorted guitar riffing on the B-side, “Honey Hush,” disturbed the peace of a generation of guitar slingers.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the biggest song of the early 1950s, “Goodnight Irene” by Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers, which spent 13 weeks at #1.

And here’s the tough and unsentimental “Honey Hush,” miles away from the original, good-natured, sax and piano version written and performed by Big Joe Turner, and light years away from Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers. This is some filthy guitar for the time. Barge-worker filthy.

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