Burton International Guitar Festival
August 19-21, 2005
by Mark Guerrero
On the weekend of August 19th, 20th, and 21st, 2005, I attended
the first annual James Burton International Guitar Festival
in Shreveport, Louisiana. Generally, I write about musical
experiences in which I'm a performer. In this case,
even though I was a spectator, I feel inspired to write about
and share the experience. The things that made it so
special were the people I met, the locale and setting, the
history I witnessed, and the phenomenal show I saw.
For those who may not know, James Burton is a pioneering guitarist
who first came to prominence playing with Ricky Nelson.
In the early days, he could be seen at the end of many Ozzie
& Harriet television episodes when the irrepressible Ricky
sang his rock & roll. James Burton later was no
less than the guitar player for the king, Elvis Presley, beginning
in the late sixties. He's played on countless hit records,
including Dale Hawkins' original version of "Suzy Q"
(creating the famous lick used by John Fogerty on his later
version of the song) and "Working Man Blues" by
Merle Haggard. James Burton was inducted into the Rock
& Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards in 2001. The
guitar festival's weekend included: a three day trade
show (kind of a mini NAMM show), the unveiling of a statue
of James Burton in front of the historic Shreveport Municipal
Auditorium and next to a statue of Elvis Presley, and a five
hour show featuring such legendary musicians as Dr. John,
Steve Cropper, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Johnny Rivers.
Current stars included Eric Johnson and Brad Paisley.
The concert took place on the hallowed stage of the Municipal
Auditorium, where the legendary Louisiana Hayride radio show
originated. Elvis Presley made his first major radio
debut on its stage in 1954.
Aside from being a fan of James Burton's guitar work, what
prompted my traveling to Shreveport began in the mid-eighties.
At the time, I was in an acoustic duo called Armstrong &
Guerrero. We made our living performing in night clubs
and restaurants in the Orange County area, south of Los Angeles.
We also played and sang on each other's individual recording
projects. We were both singer/songwriter/guitarists
and, if I may say so, we were very good. Our harmonies
were very tight. After playing together for four solid
years, we decided to go into a studio and record a lot of
the songs we had been doing on our gigs. Enter Dan Shepherd,
whom Alex had met at the time. Dan was, and is, a recording
engineer, concert sound man, musician, guitar and microphone
dealer and collector, and a knowledgeable music lover.
One afternoon in 1986, Alex and I went into Dan's 16-track
(on 2 inch tape) studio behind his house and recorded 24 songs
singing and playing at the same time. No overdubs.
Every song was done in one take, with the exception of two
songs we did in two takes. In a matter of a few hours,
we had recorded all the songs. We did it mainly for
posterity, but also sold some at our gigs in audio cassette
form (CDs weren't invented yet). Dan loved the recordings
and passed a cassette on to James Burton, who was, and still
is, a good friend of his. Dan later told us that James
was impressed and enjoyed our tape. Next thing we knew,
Dan invited Alex and I to go with him and James Burton to
hear singer/songwriter James Intveld at a club in Pasadena,
California. (James is a rock and rockabilly artist,
whose guitarist brother was tragically killed in the plane
crash that claimed Rick Nelson in 1985.) We all hung
out for the night and had a good time. James Burton
was very nice and easy to be around. Move the clock
ahead a mere twenty years and Dan calls me to tell me about
the James Burton International Guitar Festival. He encouraged
me to go. I decided to do so and called Alex, who also
decided to make plans to attend. Alex and I stopped
playing as a duo about 15 years ago, however, Alex has played
with me in my concert band, Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán
since 2002 and previously (in the late 90s) played concerts
with me and my dad in Lalo Guerrero with Mark Guerrero &
the Second Generation Band. On Friday, August 19th,
Alex and I met at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, Alex flying
in from a vacation in New Hampshire and I out of Ontario,
California. We made the three hour drive in a rental
car down to Shreveport, where a profound musical adventure
On Saturday afternoon, we went to the trade show. There
I met Johny Barbata, who had an area set up where he was selling
his autobiography. I talked with him quite a bit over
the two days. Johny has a magnificent history as a rock
drummer. He was a member of The Turtles in the 60s,
playing on "Happy Together," "Eleanor,"
and other hits. Later, he joined Crosby, Stills, Nash,
and Young, with whom he toured and played on their "live"
album, "Four Way Street." From that incredible
gig, he joined the Jefferson Airplane, who evolved into the
Jefferson Starship. Johny played on many of their albums,
including their mega hit "Red Octopus" and its major
hit single "Miracles." He also played on Graham
Nash's classic "Songs for Beginners," Neil Young's
"Time Fades Away," Stephen Stills' first solo album,
and many more. It turns out, Johny and I knew a couple
of people in common, my former bass player Rick Rosas (who
now is working with Neil Young) and Joe Wissert, who produced
The Turtles "Happy Together" and my 1973 A&M
album "Tango." I bought Johny's book, which
I read on the plane home, and was amazed by his story.
Yes, he spells his name Johny with only one "n".
Sharing the space with Johny at the trade show, was John B.
Ryland. John was selling his autobiography too, entitled
"How I Got the Hip Disc Jockey Blues." He
was a popular disc jockey in Denver in the early 70s, who
went by the name of John St. John. John later became
a major record promotion man. His stories of sex, drugs,
and rock & roll are wild and quite amazing. He told
me many himself and I got the rest from his book. Aside
from all the instrument booths, there were live bands playing.
Most impressive that day was Greg Koch. He's a magnificent
telecaster player and hilarious and entertaining guy.
One memorable line was "this guy can do things with a
guitar that (pick a name) couldn't do to a farm animal."
He also gave a great demonstration on the "chicken picking"
guitar style. Greg records his own CDs and works for
At two o'clock we all went down to the municipal auditorium
for the unveiling of the James Burton statue. Most of
the performers who were to play that night were in attendance.
It was very hot and humid, but nobody seemed to mind.
It was obviously an historic occasion we were all pleased
to have witnessed. James said a few words at a podium
next to his statue and afterwards a media gathering took place
on the second floor of the auditorium. In the media
room, I met and spoke with Jeff "Skunk" Baxter,
who's one of my favorite guitar players. He was a member
of Steely Dan, and later the Doobie Brothers. Jeff and
I also had Rick Rosas as a common friend. I told him
his solo on Steely Dan's "My Old School" from their
"Countdown To Ecstasy" album remains one of my all-time
solos on record. He was very nice and I was happy to
meet him. Next, I met the legendary Dr. John (Mac Rebennak).
We had Hirth Martinez as a common friend. (You can read
about Hirth elsewhere on my website.) Dr. John played
on Hirth's 1977 Warner Brothers album, "Big Bright Street."
Mac was happy to hear that Hirth was doing fine. He
said he'd love to have a copy of that album so I told him
I'd send him one. It was quite a gathering in the media
room. One could see Brad Paisley, Eric Johnson, Steve
Cropper, and others around the room. There was also
a table with about 15 paisley telecasters that were to be
given to all the performers on the bill that night.
All the musicians signed all the guitars, instant collector's
That evening around 6 o'clock, we all poured into the auditorium
for the big show. The lineup was as follows: The
Johnny A Trio (from Boston), Jeff Baxter, The Nelsons (twin
sons of Rick Nelson), Jeff Cook (formerly of Alabama), Johnny
Rivers, the Johnny Hiland Trio, Roscoe Beck/ Greg Koch, Jerry
Donahue, Seymour Duncan, Sonny Landreth, Eric Johnson, Doyle
Dykes, Dr. John, Steve Cropper, Steve Wariner, and Brad Paisley.
What a lineup! All the performers came and played gratis.
The proceeds went to The James Burton Foundation, which is
dedicated to providing scholarships and musical instruments
to children as well as young adults. The performers
came to honor James Burton and to help the children in the
process. The entire concert was video taped with several
cameras for a future DVD. Highlights for me included
Jeff Baxter's solo instrumental version of "America the
Beautiful," Doyle Dykes' incredible version of "How
Great Thou Art" (his acoustic solos were jaw dropping
good), an impromptu jam with Brad Paisley and Eric Johnson,
and Dr. John's set that included Steve Cropper and James Burton
on guitar. With the same lineup, Steve Cropper sang
"In the Midnight Hour," which he co-wrote, and "Dock
of the Bay," on which he played guitar and was co-producer
in 1967. The Nelsons sang a few of their dad's hits
with James Burton on guitar. Amazingly, it was the first
time they had played with James. I understand they're
now doing a DVD project with him. Johnny Rivers did
some of his big hits, including "Mountain of Love"
and "Secret Agent Man," his voice sounding
as good as it did in the 60s. There was a cavalcade
of great guitar players like Johnny A, slide guitarist Sonny
Landreth, Steve Wariner, Seymour Duncan, Jeff Cook, Johnny
Hiland, Greg Koch, and Eric Johnson. I didn't realize
that Brad Paisley was such a great guitar player. The
guy can sing and play. He definitely held his own with
Eric Johnson. Everyone seemed to really enjoy being
a part of this show and event. The auditorium was filled
with enthusiastic and appreciative people, who were fortunate
to have witnessed such a great and historic show.
After attending the trade show on Sunday afternoon, the highlight
of which was a guitar seminar by Jeff Baxter, Alex and I went
to dinner with my friends John and Marylou Rowlands.
John was there as the official photographer for the event.
John happens to live in the Palm Springs area as I do.
John Rowlands has an astounding resumé, having photographed
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Who in the 60s,
and just about every rock artist you can think of over the
years. After a great Cajun meal, Alex and I went back
to the hotel pleased with the way things went over the weekend.
Just as we got to the hotel, I got a call from Dan Shepherd
inviting us back to the same restaurant where we had just
eaten, to join him and his wife Betsy and James Burton and
his wife Louise. We went back to the restaurant where
James told us many stories of life on the road with Elvis,
Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ricky Nelson. After dinner, we
all went to James Burton's night club, which is now closed
to the public. We spent another couple of hours hanging
out and talking with James. It was an unexpected and
happy ending to a great musical journey I'll never forget.
and Shreveport Photo Gallery Below