Dorsey Burnette (December 28, 1932 - August 19, 1979) was an early Rockabilly singer from Memphis, Tennessee and with his younger brother Johnny Burnette and a friend named Paul Burlison was one of the founder members of The Rock and Roll Trio.
Dorsey Burnette was born on December 28, 1932, in Memphis, the older of two sons of Dorsey Sr. and Willy May Burnette. He got his first guitar, a Gene Autry model, from his father at age six, at the same time that his father gave four-year-old Johnny a similar instrument -- the two immediately smashed them. Dorsey was a tough kid with a violent temper and not a lot of smarts holding it in check, and he was constantly in trouble in school and spending time with the wrong crowd. By the time he was a young teenager, Dorsey was hanging out at the Poplar Street Mission with future recording artist Lee Denson, when he wasn't getting arrested for truancy or fighting. He competed in the Golden Gloves as an aspiring boxer, and it was at the 1949 championship that he met Paul Burlison, another aspiring fighter. They made note of their shared interest in music, but Burlison's induction into the Army in 1951 prevented him from hooking up just then with Dorsey and Johnny, who had begun playing together in the late '40s.
Dorsey, Johnny, and Burlison finally hooked up in mid-1952, working as a trio and within other, larger groups. They cut their first record, "Go Mule Go"/"You're Undecided," for the tiny Von label in 1954, their lineup augmented by a fourth member, fiddler Tommy Seeley In 1956, they were off to New York. They decided to try out for Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, which was one of the top new talent showcases in the country, just at the time when Elvis Presley -- now signed to RCA Victor -- was burning up the airwaves with "Heartbreak Hotel," and were picked to play on the program. The group, known as the Rock 'n Roll Trio, won three successive shows broadcast over the ABC network; by the time of the third they had professional management, and soon after that they were signed to the Coral label, part of the Decca Records (now MCA) family of labels. The group only lasted for about a year.
It was Burnette's brashness in walking up to the home of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson -- famous from television and radio as entertainers, and the parents of Ricky and David Nelson -- and asking to speak to Ricky that got him his break as a songwriter. Ricky Nelson literally pulled up on his motorcycle, accepted Dorsey's introduction, and had him and Johnny audition right there. He ended up recording a dozen of their songs, most of them written by Dorsey Burnette, and his success with "Waitin' in School" got the Burnettes a new contract with Imperial Records and Dorsey a hookup with Imperial's publishing division, Commodore Music.
Roy Brown later covered Dorsey and Johnny's "Hip Shakin' Baby," and Dorsey managed to get a solo hit in 1959 on the Era label with "Tall Oak Tree," a song that Rick Nelson had rejected. Ironically, given Johnny Burnette's prominence, Dorsey's first hit came five months before his brother finally reached the charts with "Dreamin'." The two successes led Coral Records to dig into their vaults and release a 1957-vintage single of "Blues Stay Away from Me."
The Burnettes never had another hit, although Dorsey kept writing and recording long after "Tall Oak Tree." His contract was sold to the Dot label (now owned by MCA), and he cut three singles and an album during the six months he was there.
Dorsey Burnette's family life took a tragic turn from which he never fully recovered in 1964, when Johnny Burnette died in a drowning accident. The surviving brother, driven by guilt or depression and his self-destructive nature, became a chronic alcoholic and drug abuser, his musical abilities and reliability suffering in the process as he staggered from failure to failure across a dozen labels over the next 15 years. Dorsey found some belated comfort in Christianity, becoming "born again" in the 1970s and returning to where he started, in country music. His country recordings for Capitol Records got him pegged as "most promising newcomer" by one music organization that never recognized his earlier activity in rock & roll, and revitalized his career. By then, Burnette was appearing in small venues and playing to anyone who would pay him, getting into fights occasionally, and taking too many drinks and too many pills. In his shows, he would do his newer songs and a few of the old rockabilly numbers like "Tear It Up," which he counted as country music.
(photo above: Dorsey & Alberta Burnette)
Somehow, he never found the right label once the Capitol contract was over. In 1979, however, he signed a contract with Elektra Records and began recording with fellow former rockabilly star Jimmy Bowen.
Things looked promising, and Burnette, whose fame in England had never subsided (American rockabilly stars being treated like Olympian demigods anywhere but America), even supposedly did a recording session with Led Zeppelin (according to rumor). The first single by Burnette and Bowen had just been released when Burnette died of a heart attack on August 19, 1979. (info edited from Wikipedia & AMG)
Well the only video I can find of Dorsey is this very short clip when he accepts the Academy of Country Music Award for Most Promising Male Vocalist in 1973.