Guitar Legend James Burton Named to Country Music Hall of Fame

Elvis Presley is in both the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now his legendary guitar player can boast the same. Revealed on Monday, March 18th, guitarist James Burton is the newest instrumentalist to be inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in Nashville. A studio and/or touring musician is elected to the Country Hall of Fame once every three years.

James Burton was elected beside Toby Keith in the Modern Era category, and John Anderson in the Veteran’s Era category for the 2024 Country Music Hall of Fame class.

“I love you guys, thank you so much,” is all the 84-year-old said from the podium while accepting the honor. Burton will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in the Medallion Ceremony coming up later this year.

Though Burton may be synonymous with Elvis for many, his contributions as a country music guitarist were just as significant, and arguably even more prolific. Yes, Burton not only played with Presley throughout the second half of his career, he was the bandleader of The King’s “TCB Band” from 1969 to 1977. But well before this, Burton started his career as the right hand man for Rick Nelson, recording with Nelson starting in 1957.

When Dale Hawkins recorded the original version of “Suzy Q” in 1957, it was James Burton playing and arranging the song’s iconic guitar part.

But James Burton doesn’t need anyone else’s legacy to stand on. He is considered one of the most foundational guitarists in American music history. Born August 21st, 1939 in Dubberly, Louisiana, he was performing on The Louisiana Hayride while he was still a teenager. He still wasn’t 20 when he took off for Los Angeles, and started playing with Rick Nelson. Burton’s guitar of choice was the Fender Telecaster, and to this day he’s considered the master of the instrument.

As a member of the exclusive fraternity of Los Angeles-based studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, Buton performed on countless studio recordings, especially when it came to country artists either from the West Coast, or the ones who decided to record there. This included Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young, and later Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, and John Denver.

When Emmylou Harris originally formed what she called her “Hot Band” after the passing of Gram Parsons, James Burton was in it. After the passing of Elvis, Burton’s biggest standing gig was as the guitar player for John Denver for over a dozen years. Though Burton would work as a hired hand, he also saw the value in pairing up with specific musicians to result in a more collaborative sound. This is how Burton contributed significantly to not just the music, but the sounds of many critically important American musicians across genres.

The induction of James Burton into the Country Music Hall of Fame is hard to argue with. But seeing how he was already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Musician’s Hall of Fame, it’s fair to wonder if a more dedicated country musician such as legendary side player Don Rich, or steel guitarists Buddy Emmons or Ralph Mooney would have been better suited for the Country Hall. Compounding this concern is how we will have to wait another three years before another musician has the opportunity to go in.

However, everybody agrees that it’s better for these accolades to be bestowed when the individual is living. This was underscored in the 2024 Country Hall of Fame picks since John Anderson has recently suffered from health issues likely boosting his Hall of Fame prospects, and Toby Keith died a few weeks short of experiencing the honor in person.

Lucky for James Burton and the rest of us, the legendary guitar player is still around to soak in this accolade.

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