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Sonny Burns

Sonny Burns was an unsung hero of honky tonk, a country singer who recorded a handful of outstanding sides but whose personal and professional peccadilloes prevented him from enjoying lasting success. Clyde Burns Jr. was born on September 19, 1930 in Lufkin, Texas, and his family relocated to Nacogdoches for several years before settling in Houston. Burns began playing guitar in his early teens, and by age 19 he was a regular on a local radio show hosted by Sleepy Bob Everson. Burns became a sideman for Texas country stars Eddie Noack and R.D. Hendon, but he put his career on hold to serve in the Air Force. After returning to civilian life, in 1953 Burns cut some demos accompanied by Noack that first led to a regional release on HJA Records, and then a record deal with the Beaumont, Texas-based label Starday Records. Burns' second release for Starday, "Too Hot to Handle," became a major hit in Texas upon its release in late 1953, and Burns soon released a follow-up single, "A Place for Girls Like You." However, Burns' version of the song quickly fell off the charts when Faron Young cut a version that rose to the country Top Ten. Burns was a frequent guest on the Houston Hometown Jamboree show on KNUZ-AM, where he often shared the stage with George Jones, a fellow Starday artist whose career had yet to take off. The two recorded a duet of "Wrong About You" that was issued by Starday in the spring of 1954. Burns and Jones were said to have struck up a fast friendship, but Burns shared Jones' well-documented enthusiasm for alcohol, and also had a reputation as a womanizer; he became known for missing dates and frequently delivering sloppy performances, and after cutting a second single with Jones in the fall of 1954, the two were set to record a new tune written by Jones in mid-1955. Burns failed to show up for the recording session, so Jones cut the song without him, and "Why Baby Why" became his first chart success, and as Jones' star rose, Burns' began to sink. Burns continued to cut fine sides for Starday, but he and the label parted ways in 1956, and it wasn't until 1959 that Burns recorded again, releasing a single on the tiny TNT label. In 1961, Burns re-emerged on United Artists, cutting seven singles for the label over the course of three years, but none were hits, and after recording some sessions for MGM in 1968 that were never released, Burns retired from music. The hell-raising drinker and ladies' man had become a born-again Christian, and he returned to Nacogdoches, where he became a pastor at a local church and supported himself as a hair stylist. He died on October 21, 1992. After his passing, his work was rediscovered by collectors of classic country sounds, and in 2010, Righteous Records released a collection of his Starday material, Satan's A Waitin'. A year later, the respected German reissue label Bear Family issued A Real Cool Cat: The Starday Recordings, which collected Burns' complete Starday repertoire including a number of unreleased recordings. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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