Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jabo's Combo

TOP: Burton Parks, Roy Burns, Eugene Anastas, J. R. Burns
FRONT: Jimmy Burns, Clay Glover

Who can measure the passion of a young man’s heart?  Why do some choose basketball, others choose golf, reading or poetry? How does the seed get planted? How does it pierce a young man’s spirit, begin to grow and become so important that he must do it, even if it means a period of separation from those he loves and who love him?

Part of the seed was planted on the day Dad Burns brought to the house at 212 Southwest Fourteenth Street a guitar and mandolin. Sonny immediately claimed the guitar because it was larger, the strings had a wider range, and it didn’t hurt the fingers as much as the mandolin did. The guitar was going to cause Sonny plenty of pain, but he could see past it to the joy. After a few instructions about chords and strings from Mom, Sonny took off on the instrument and never looked back. He practiced until he got blisters on the tips of his fingers, but he continued playing. The blisters burst, and the pain got worse, but he continued playing. His blistered fingers bled, but he continued practicing. He would sleep with a bowl of water by his bed to cool his burning finger-tips, but he kept playing.

In about a week, the blisters began to turn to calluses, and within two weeks, he had a set of calluses he could strike a match on. He could play for hours without pain. He could bend the strings to his will. They would respond with amazing sounds—chords, melodies, songs old and new. The guitar became Sonny’s constant companion. Anywhere it was permitted—and especially where there was anyone who knew something about the guitar he didn’t know. All of a sudden, church became a really fun place to go. It held guitar players like Stanley Rushing and Glen Albin to imitate. There were chords coming from the piano and organ to be matched.

After about a year of learning from these friends, Sonny saved up money to buy an adaptor which he could place on the guitar and plug in to the amplifier. Stan moved away about this time and the position of lead guitar came open. Sonny was ready for it.

Only problem, we didn’t have monitors or sound men to keep everything in balance. The amplifier was out front and you had to play it loud to hear yourself. Most of the time it wasn’t a problem, because the people at the church sang so loud that it made no difference how loud an instrument was. It just gave them an opportunity to sing louder.

During offertories and solos, it could be a bit of a problem. After all, weren’t the soloists supposed to be heard over the guitars? But, as a rule, the people at the Mineral Wells Church of God were tolerant of the sonic excesses. They had seen it happen before. They were sure he’d grow out of that stage, just like the others over the years who had learned to contribute to the instrumental ensemble.

‘Course, they had never had a Sonny on the guitar before. Sonny perceived very rapidly that if you weren’t playing lead guitar, it was a lot like not being the lead dog on a sled team. The scenery never changes. The lead guitar could control tempos, styles, and the emotional character of the music, and—therefore--the service.

Sonny had found his niche, and he wasn’t going to give it up lightly. He loved playing gospel music in church. He loved playing country music on the front porch next door at Homer Glover’s—the virtuoso mandolin picker. But there was something in the air in the mid-50’s. Blues singers like Jimmy Reed were breaking into the main steam with the rough, gravelly emotion-filled voices and guitar licks that could make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight out. When Chuck Berry played “Go, Johnny, Go,” it raised a bar for Sonny that would never be lowered.

In the meantime, Elvis was staying at the “Heartbreak Hotel.” Jerry Lee was ablaze in certain parts of his anatomy. Pat Boone lost his baby, and almost lost his mind. Elvis and Jerry Lee had been raised Pentecostal, but the church scene couldn’t hold their shakin’ and bakin’, rockin’ and rollin’. Sonny’s young heart resonated with this new revelation of high spirit and raw emotion. He looked for kindred spirits nearby where this energy could find expression and found it—where else—with a Pentecostal friend, Billy Woodruff. The Woodruffs were friends with Mom and Dad, from our frequent visits to the Pentecostal Holiness church across from where Aunt Jewel Faye lived at the time. Sis. Woodruff (we always called her Sis. Woodruff, since we knew them through the church) had an unusual tic. If you pointed at her, she would have to say what you said, exactly as you were saying it. No kidding! Billy demonstrated this to us several times. To show they weren’t kidding, he would throw in a cuss word now and then and she would say it exactly in time and style with him. Then she would grab a fly-swatter and go after him. 

Billy was a strapping young giant with a handsome head of flame-red hair, an Elvis-like vibrato, a jumbo guitar and a white sport coat. It was a match made somewhere in the spirit world, if not in heaven. Billy played a respectable thumping jumbo second-guitar and loved to sing. Sonny wanted lead guitar, so during his developing years, he was quite content for Billy to sing lead vocals while Sonny played lead guitar. With such an enthusiastic, talented pair, it wasn’t hard to attract other gifted performers to their group. They found Burton Parks, who they converted from accordion to piano. Burton was a slender, medium-tall young fellow with a full head of black hair, thick eyebrows, and heavy beard. He was easy-going, which was good for Billy and Sonny.

They discovered that Clayton Glover, so impressive in the Mineral Wells High School marching band drum line and all-state drummer with the jazz band, wanted nothing more and nothing less than to be able to use his full set of drums with guitar amps turned up loud enough to match his most thunderous dynamic levels. Clayton was phenomenal. He was one of the best trap-set players I ever knew. We knew he was good, but we had no way of knowing just how good at the time. We knew he was ten times better than anyone in Palo Pinto County. When he went to play in Vegas, it confirmed our estimate of his abilities.

Norris Bailey, Clay Glover, J.R. "Jabo" Burns, Burton Parks, Billy Woodruff
BILLY WOODRUFF & The Starlighters
played the "BIG D" in Dallas w/Sid King, Jerry Lee
and many more Rock 'n Rollers....1955!
Jerry Lee did the Whole Lotta Shakin!

SID KING IN 1955 .... THE BIG "D"

Eugene Anastas was recruited to play sax. He was a good-looking kid in that Greek/Italian fashion. Medium height. Stocky. Mature-looking beyond his years. He could improvise over any theme Sonny gave him, and he could wail on “Blue Moon” in a way that just pulled your heart out. They went through a couple of yakety-sax virtuosos, but I remember Eugene because he was in the group when I started playing for them later.

The group called themselves “Billy Woodruff and the Starlighters.” (Lead singers always get their names listed separately. It was only later that Sonny thought about this.) They had no bass player at the time, so they utilized Norris Bailey to keep the steady low chords on the guitar.

Unfortunately for Sonny, Dad chose just then to take another of his tension-releasing odysseys. Dad could only stay in one place for so long. About a year. Then the pressure that built up gradually through the year got to the explosive point. We would come home from school and find all the furniture out at the side of the road with a home-made sign announcing “Yard Sale.” The couch might go for $10.00, the love seat for $5.00, the kitchen table for $$.00 and the chairs for $2.00 each. As soon as Dad had enough gas money to get to his prescribed destination, he changed the sign to “Free Stuff,” threw the clothes and linens into the car trunk, and we were on our way.

This never particularly bothered Mom. She knew Dad needed to get away, and she knew it wouldn’t be more than a few months to a year before he was ready to come back to Mineral Wells. It was an adventure--of sorts. A change of pace. When we were smaller, it was the equivalent of a vacation. Later, I used to wonder why we didn’t just take vacations like everyone else, instead of moving away for a year. But, I have always been glad for all the places we went and stayed long enough to get acquainted with the area.

This time, though, there was some serious dragging of the collective feet by the Burns boys. Roy and I were playing football with the junior high team. Sonny was on the freshman squad at the high school, but more than that, his heart was with the embryonic Starlighters. Rehearsing and playing with his rockabilly buddies was the one place in life where he was free. Free to express himself through the wildest guitar licks he could devise, invent, create or imitate. Free to turn up the volume until his chest bones throbbed with the beat of Clay’s drum while his guitar-possessed spirit soared among the asteroids.

He wasn’t going to take this move lightly, but he could find no workable alternative from the time he got home and found Dad selling the last stick of furniture until the ’55 Ford was loaded and Dad was honking the horn for us to get in. So, sulking and stomping, Sonny climbed into the back seat with Roy and me. Larry sat between Mom and Dad in the front seat. Dad pulled the gear lever down in first, and with a light screeching of rubber against asphalt and the mild roar of the V-8 engine, we were on our way to—Abilene.

Abilene!  Abilene was only 110 miles from Mineral Wells. But it might as well have been a thousand for a kid with no car, who was leaving his heart on the floor of the Starlighters practice “studios.” In today’s jargon, the Starlighters would have been called a garage band. But nobody in the band lived in a house with a garage, so it took extremely tolerant parents to let them flail away at full volume. Clayton’s dad worked the second shift, so his house was usually available. As often as not, they practiced in one of the churches, either the Mineral Wells Church of God or Billy’s Pentecostal Holiness church. The churches were rarely locked. They both had a small P.A. system, and the group could always break into a gospel song if the pastor came around.

Roy and I were able to put our disappointments aside fairly easily when we found we were going to Abilene. Abilene constituted the home of James Alec Grady Walker, our Granddad--a great guy. A fun person. This couldn't be too bad. Besides, we were getting beat up pretty good in football. Especially me. I only weighed 120 pounds, and the coach liked to put me blocking a 200-pound behemoth. I was one of the few who would go at him full tilt, because I was used to fighting my older brothers, and I had picked out this boy’s weaknesses. The coach wanted to make a man out of the behemoth. In the meantime, he hadn't noticed that while this guy was becoming a man, I was gradually becoming hamburger. So, I could take this move. Maybe I could make the basketball team.

Sonny sulked and pouted most of the way to Abilene, until he found out that Pete and Della, Louis and Helen had already moved there. Some big construction was going on in the area, and a lot of painters were needed. Enter Pete, Louis, and Dad.

For Sonny, this meant that Walter Dean and Guy would be there. They were both in high school, and were pretty hip characters. Between them, they had a collection of blues recordings (and I do mean the twelve-inch vinyl records of the time) of every black artist on the market. We moved into a rent house on the North side of Granddad, and Pete and Della had moved into a rent house on the South side of Granddad. Sonny almost forgot his disappointment for several weeks as he listened over and over again to every recording in Walter Dean’s collection.

It affected his guitar playing. He had to be able to match any sobbing, sighing, wrenching line from Jimmy Reed or Chuck Berry. His singing voice took on the unmistakable gruffness and emotional character of the black man singing of abuse, lost love, poverty and despair. He felt he could empathize.

Once he essentially mastered the black man's blues, including the ability to improvise lyrics over a 12-bar pattern, the old longing for the Starlighters came back with a vengeance. He needed a place where he could throw himself into this kind of music. Playing at the local Church of God in Abilene didn't get it, because nobody quite “got” his style. The only bright spot at the church was a friendly young lady who owned a buff two-tone green 1952 Chevrolet. It was sweet. And so was she. But not sweet enough to hold the full attention of a young man who wanted to play rock-and-roll. And no one at the high school was up to speed in that arena.

So, while Roy and I warmed the bench at the basketball games, Sonny set about convincing Mom and Dad that he would be better off back in Mineral Wells, practicing with the Starlighters. He tried the logic that the Abilene High School academic program was so different from Mineral Wells High School that he was finding it difficult to make the adjustment. Yeah, right! It progressed through the usual grumpiness, complaining and fussing with everybody about everything. It eventually migrated to a place where his adventurous, rebellious nature could really express itself--the 1955 Ford V8, a pretty hot car. Dad had a way of breaking in a car so that it ran with the very best. If it didn't run, Dad wouldn't keep it.

Dad liked to make the needle on the speedometer disappear from time-to-time when on a good straightaway.  I don't ever remember being passed while Dad drove. It went against his competitive spirit. Whatever nature Dad repressed somehow expressed itself fully in Sonny. He basically felt it was his duty to double any speed sign, whether in a straight-away or on a curve. I particularly disliked the curves. I didn't trust the tires, and I didn’t like trusting my life to the mechanical quality of a car. There was a roller-coaster sort of road out to Phantom Lake near Abilene. One dip was particularly abrupt, and the gouges in the asphalt were sufficient evidence to me that you could take this road too fast. As I look back on it, I suspect that most of the gouges were due to Sonny's 110 mile-per-hour approach to the 30 mile-per-hour dip. The Ford would bottom out with a shower of sparks and gravel. Then it would go airborne at the top of the next rise. Sonny had learned--through trial and error--that if you hit the rise at the proper speed, the car would sail through the air for several seconds, then come down as gracefully as the snow-skiers in the Olympics. This was the original Scream Machine! I take my hat off to the builders of the 1955 Ford. It survived incredible abuse, and Roy and I got a lot closer to the Lord.

Roy recalls the day Sonny had the car at Abilene High School when an ice storm laid a couple of inches of ice on all roads and parking lots during the school day. Sonny took the opportunity to put on an "ice show" for the students. While other students made the way carefully to their cars, not at all sure they would attempt to drive home on the ice, Sonny ran to the Ford and flew down the center lane of the parking lot. He gave the steering wheel a hard turn, and the Ford spun round and round as it continued to move forward the length of the parking lot. The gravel and grass at the edge of the lot allowed the car to stop safely. Sonny seemed instinctively to know the limits of the car, the conditions of the road, and the weather. Sometimes I thought that Sonny’s driving was a metaphor for his life-style. Fly along, hell-bent for leather, then pull up at the brink of disaster just like James Dean diving out of the car just before it flew over the cliff in "Rebels Without a Cause." One thing for sure, he kept his guardian angel busy. I am sure Sonny’s angel received some unprecedented awards for protecting him during those years, along with an occasional tongue-lashing for not being able to control him.

"Jabo" Burns, Clay Glover, Burton Parks

It didn't take too many phone calls from school counselors, pastors and neighbors until Mom and Dad received a special "epiphany." Sonny would be better off back in Mineral Wells playing guitar in a rock band than terrorizing the nice people of Abilene! By this time, Sonny had gotten Burton Parks to invite him to stay at his home with his folks in Mineral Wells. The Starlighters could be a band once more! Mom recalls that she got Mrs. Parks to promise that she wouldn't let the boys play for dances. Somehow that clause in the contract quickly got covered up. Moving back to Mineral Wells didn’t remove Sonny’s adventurous spirit in the automobile. According to Clayton, “J.R. would take us all out to some muddy roads south of Mineral Wells when it rained and he'd do figure-eights down the road.  That’s when I learned to pray at an early age!” Sonny accepted the invitation to stay with the Parks family, and he got a job selling shoes at Poston's Dry Goods on North Oak. He had fallen in love with a new Fender Stratocaster guitar--a pearl-white solid-body cut-away to allow reaching those extra high notes so essential to the lead rock guitarist. The honey-blonde fingerboard was so narrow I couldn't play it after playing a standard guitar, but the closer strings meant faster moves for Sonny. It was a beauty that set the standard for a new breed of instruments. Mr. Parks generously co-signed the loan for Sonny to have this marvelous instrument. It became Sonny's mistress, his confidante, his mouth-piece, his servant, his master.

The Starlighters enjoyed considerable success throughout North Texas by the time we returned from our Abilene "vacation." The guys were regulars on the Big D Jamboree in Ft. Worth appearing with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Trini Lopez, both of whom became super stars very shortly afterward. Sonny still remarks about Jerry Lee's saxophonist’s ability to play while rolling across the floor. Trini offered Jabo (as he preferred to be called by this time) a job playing guitar with him.

Jabo began to itch to express himself vocally as well as instrumentally. If one could play lead guitar and sing lead vocals... well, the possibilities were endless. By the time we returned to Mineral Wells, Roy had mastered the bass fiddle, the bass instrument of choice for rockabilly and gospel music. I bought Glen Albin's golden cut-away Montgomery Ward guitar and amp for $75. I saved for it at the rate of fifty cents an hour, thus it represented 150 hours of work. I could buy quite a guitar for a month’s wages these days.

In the meantime, Roy and I found we were still too short for basketball, too small for football, and too slow for track and girls. It made it easier as well as necessary to throw ourselves into our music more intensely. Music was not just an escape from, it was an escape to--to friends making music in rehearsal, to friends making music for audiences large and small, to making new friends who were affected by our music.

Roy took over the position of bass player at the Mineral Wells Church of God after Bob Culp left town for Washington state. Bass fiddles aren't the easiest instrument to haul around, and there was always the chance that the Culps would return. We didn't feel comfortable taking the bass out of the church, although we did it from time to time for church programs, so we began looking for alternatives. Roy found out that one of Dad's cousins had a fine old double-bass stored in a rent house. He would be happy for Roy to use it. At last, an instrument Roy could play country music and even rock-and-roll without feeling guilty about using as he had with the church instrument. An instrument we could carry anywhere we wanted to play.

Billy had to do his six-month stint with the National Guard, so Sonny took this opportunity to make his move.  He wanted a bass fiddle so he recruited Roy. Norris was getting more involved and having more success with high school football, so Jabo recruited me for rhythm guitar. He recruited Eugene Anastas on sax. And he pulled Burton Parks and Clayton Glover. He dropped "Sonny" and picked up "Jabo" full time. I think it was Clayton who came up with "Jabo's Combo" for the band's name.

We were ready to rock and roll! Here's the way it usually worked. We had no record player at the house, so Jabo would save money from his work at Poston's Dry Goods. He would transfer two or three dollars into quarters and take his break at the pool hall located under J C. Penney's. He would put a quarter in the juke box, push the button with the number he was wanting to learn, and write down as many words as he could catch. He would play the song four or five times until he had all the words and the melody were ingrained in his memory. Then he would listen to it three or four more times to pick up the music arrangement--especially the lead guitar licks.

By that time, the serious pool players were cussing and hollering, "Get that #%*@&^ kid off the juke box. He's driving us cazy!" But the manager, who liked Jabo and admired his determination, would quiet them with "Cool it, boys. He'll be finished soon. Let him be." Clayton has a slightly different version of this anecdote! He writes, “Jim, you know that quarter that J.R. was playing the juke-box to learn songs with? Well, they told me that it was a quarter with a small hole in it with a strong string attached to it. He would put it in, the record would start playing and Jabo would pull the quarter back out. He was slick like that.” I tend to lean toward Clayton’s memory on this one!

Jabo would come home saturated with this new song. He would grab his guitar, make sure he could do everything just right, then he would teach the song to Roy and me, and give suggestions on how he wanted us to do it. We would get busy practicing. By the time Burton, Eugene and Clay came over, we would be sure to have our part mastered so we wouldn't be seen as weak links who were tolerated just because we were brothers of the band leader.

Jabo was good at getting gigs, and Clayton was a great PR man. We had a group picture made for our poster. All of us wore white sport coats and shiny black polo shirts except Jabo, who wore a dark suit and white shirt. He was the leader. Jabo always sucked his cheeks in to make his face appear thinner, and he made his lips pout a little. He would make sure at least one strand of hair fell across his forehead. "Drives the girls crazy," he said.

We typically performed on Friday and Saturday nights. If we didn't have a Saturday night rock 'n' roll engagement, we would play country music at a community center in Graford or at a remodeled barn on the other side of Cool. Cool, Texas, once made it in a Ripley's "Believe it or not" column because of its steam laundry with the name “Cool Steam Laundry.” Friday was most often the North Oak Teen Club. It was a great place for teens to hang out. There were hot dogs, soda, games, and dancing to the music of Jabo's Combo.  We were paid a percentage of the attendance fees.

Our best money was made at graduation parties on the base. A contact person would contract with Jabo to play from 7-10:00 in the evening for a specified rate. The combo was popular, and who wanted a party to end or go to canned music at 10:00? Jabo's contract had a clause that required doubling the original fee for each hour after 10:00. We would often play until 11:00, and many times until 12:00. We sometimes made more money playing rock 'n' roll in one evening than we made all week at our day jobs.

Utilizing Jabo's juke-box method of instruction, we developed a pretty impressive repertoire. Some of our favorites included:

Whole lotta shakin'
You win again (the news is out)
Great balls afire (Larry's personal favorite)
Crazy arms
You know that I love you (honest, I do)
Run/hide (you got me runnin')
Better get some insurance on me, baby
Johnny be good
He'll have to go
Four walls
Run, Red, Run (novelty tune)
Wake up, little Susie
Blue moon (Eugene's sax solo)
Sweet bunch of daisies
Poor people of Paris (My instrumental solo)
Sixteen Tons
Young love
All shook up
Teddy bear
That'll be the day
Young love
Love me tender
Almost lost my mind
Heartbreak hotel
Party doll
Love letters in the sand
Heartache by the numbers
Stagger Lee

The blues numbers were always hits. Jabo could scrape out the pain of the blues in the gravelly vocal style he had learned from listening to Walter Dean's collection of blues singers. He could do it with the best. Somehow, you felt he was vocally scraping the leavings of life from a pan someone had already gotten the best from, and nothing was left but the hurt (Run/hide). At other times, it was unrestrained celebration (Johnny Be Good). The fans loved it! Roy and I were known for our Everly Brothers numbers. They were fun. They were about the teenager's life.

Our routine at the clubs was to play forty-five minutes of rock 'n' roll, then take a fifteen-minute break while the PA system played recordings. It became a game for the girls to try to get Roy and me to dance. Remarkably, we resisted for most of our tenure with the Combo. We were there to make music, not to dance. But, secretly, it pleased us that through music we could attract friends in a way that even the athletes could envy.

Sonny was careful to protect Roy and me from the “world.” When he was younger, he told us that if anyone ever tried to get us to smoke, to tell him and he would beat the stuffing (I am cleaning this up) out of them. But, Clayton didn’t have quite the same experience: “J.R. and Eugene took me out to the Brazos River at the age of seventeen for the purpose of getting me drunk. Then they dropped me at my step-father’s home and I had to sober up before he came home from work at 11:00 that night. My first time--puking, crying, there are scars still on my brain!” He continues, “J.R. and Billy told a bunch of girls at one of our teen-age dances that the drummer had never been kissed, and the girls wanted my phone number, but back then my step-father was too poor to have a phone.” Saved from the throes of iniquity by abject poverty!

The three of us—Sonny, Roy, and I--were in high school for a couple of years at the same time. Roy and Jabo took the slower route with the "Distributive Education" plan, where they went to school for half a day and worked half a day. As a result, everybody at Mineral Wells High School knew the Burns Boys. There was a fad one year--the high school girls would go by Poston's Dry Goods to buy a pair of white tennis shoes and get Jabo's autograph on the shoes!

Those were fun times. Maneuver that bass fiddle into my '50 model Ford (no easy task), load up the trunk with guitars and drums, and head for the teen club. The girls took their cues from Elvis' fans and would scream at the band during the "right" moments. I heard one girl holler, "Spit on me, Jabo!" I don't know if he obliged or not. The peak of the frenzy came during the last music set of the evening. While playing a big instrumental break, Jabo would give a signal. He and I would throw our guitars behind our heads without missing a beat. Roy would position the bass fiddle across his lap. Burton stood up at the piano. Eugene laid back across the piano bench with his sax. Clay went crazy on the drums. This was just the warm-up. At the precise emotional and musical moment, our guitars went straight up, Roy spun the bass like a top, and Clay bounced his sticks spinning high into the air and caught them behind his back. The fans would be delirious!

That always worked well with the teens. It didn't always work out with the adults at the Moose Club. The Moose Club dances had a great setting. We were on the eighth floor of the Crazy Hotel (later called the Carlsbad). The ballroom was possibly twenty feet high, surrounded by windows that went almost from ceiling to floor. We played our set in front of one of the windows. The big window framed Clay's drum set-up. You could see forever. This particular evening, Roy and I noticed that one of the Moose (Meese?) clubbers had seemed to take a special appreciation for Clay's drumming. Clay was an incredible drummer, and though a bit shy in person, when playing rock he had a signature vocal cat-call he would make from time to time. This clubber brought Clay several drinks during the evening. It was a clear liquid and had a lemon slice on the lip of the glass, so Roy and I assumed it was lemonade.

We noticed that Clay seemed to be really enjoying the evening. His cat-calls were more frequent and a bit more enthusiastic than usual. He tried a few more drum licks and seemed eager to take additional opportunities for drum breaks. When the big, big moment came, Jabo and I threw our guitars behind our heads without missing a lick. Roy crossed the bass over his lap. Burton stood up at the piano and Eugene laid back across the bench. Everything was going well. Clay was building his crescendo. At the peak moment, the guitars went up, Roy spun the bass, Clay gave a cat-call and ricocheted his spinning sticks into the upper reaches of the magnificent ball room. He had miscalculated significantly. The drinks were not lemonade, but vodka. Clay reached behind his back to catch the sticks as always. He had never missed. This time, Clay caught nothing but air as his stool fell over backwards, taking Clay with it. The sticks sailed gracefully through the huge window and landed on the street eight stories below. It was a climactic ending to our gig, alright, but not the one we had planned!

Those were formative years. Jabo's combo was a large part of our teen years. We continued playing country music on fifth Saturdays. And Sundays, we were a gospel quartet at the Mineral Wells Church of God or at a Sunday afternoon gospel singing. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish one setting from another. I guess that went back to my Sister Alexander days, when I wanted to sing "Roly-Poly" in church.

It was instructive to note people's response to music, whether in church, country music barn, or teen club. They always responded. They were either for or against. They entered in or were pulled in to the music. I recall how the teens could get caught up dancing to "Honky-Tonk," one of the first rockabilly tunes to feature a driving bass, balanced by searing licks from the treble. Jabo would nod to us to keep playing. By the third run-through of the song, the chaperones were literally having to escort couples from the dance floor who had overstepped the bounds of propriety kept by the parents club. Jabo just smiled, winked at us, and kept playing.

On the other hand, I observed how the folks at the country barn gigs could light up with sheer delight at "Wildwood flower" or go for their beer at "Four walls."

At church, when we sang "Heavenly Love" or "He's already done" people stood and raised their hand in worship, often crying and shouting for joy. I was amazed at the power God had given music. In my heart I determined that, though I would always have a good time playing and singing all kinds of music, and I would always appreciate what I learned in the Combo, this life-changing music was where I wanted to go.

But, I'm just almost positive I've heard Mom Burns play "Down yonder" for the Sunday evening offertory. Bro. Mitchell said he always got a bigger offering when Mom Burns played a fast song.

Written by Jim Burns, MWHS Class of 1961
brother of J. R. "Jabo" Burns, MWHS Class of 1958
and Roy Burns, MWHS Class of 1959

Jim Burns, DMA, Professor of Music, Lee University, Cleveland, Tennessee,
Copyright belongs to Professor Burns.

I received this email from Jim Burns on January 4, 2011 and wanted to share it with you.

Hello, Judy, and Happiest of New Years!

I would be very honored for you to put the story on your blog and web-site. My class was the class of 1961, although I graduated in the summer of 1960 and worked to save money for college. Thank you for your interest. I had fun pulling it together. I talked with J. R. and Roy about some of the details before they left us, and I was pleased that they liked it. Those were fun, formative times. Let me know when it's up.

Best wishes,


PS Last year, the Mineral Wells Church of God gave me the bass fiddle we used in our escapades. I treasure it. I play it from time to time with a couple of ensembles, and I always feel my brothers' hands on the neck of the bass, playing along with me.


  1. Delores Ayers, Class of '62January 4, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    Thanks for posting this article, Judy. What memories !!!!!!!!

  2. Judy Mc Guire Parish, Class of '62January 4, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    I so enjoyed what I read. I need to go through and look at the pictures, too. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Deloris Bailey Sybert, Class of '62January 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    Would love to talk to you Jimmy. Your brothers were my brothers and I loved them so dearly. Oh the band days, that was really something. I was at almost all of the bands' big times performances when Norris was still with them. The Starlighters I designed and painted it on the drum set. So many memories and so much fun. Billy was my life saver one night because of Jerry Lewis, but that is another story. I have so many wonderful stories of J.R. and Roy, so if Jimmy sees this, get in touch it would be a dream to talk to you once again.

  4. Linda Kay Stone CoxJanuary 5, 2011 at 1:33 AM

    Judy, thanks for posting. It is a great story and one that needs to be told for the people of MWHS.

  5. Jessie Wright TeddlieJanuary 5, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Those guys, including Brother Mitchell, were wonderful musicians. They were a part of my growing up years in Mineral Wells along with the Chapparals. I grew up going to the places where they played just because they were great and I loved to dance.

    I remember a senior day assembly where they did one thing or another, and J.R. had everyone standing and clapping with his great songs. The same performance day Don Hines did the duck walk on his performance.

    Everyone thought many of us were bad kids because of the places where the bands played or the types of music, but those folks did not know that they were also playing in church almost every Sunday. I loved them back then and still do as they showed me that people can be wonderful believers and still be human. The talents were unbelievable and the guys were so caring.

    Thanks to Jimmy and Judy for the posting and for keeping the website and blog going.


  6. Linda Carol White MooreJanuary 5, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Judy, thanks for including this for us to read and remember.

  7. Thanks everyone! Jimmy has been so gracious in allowing us to use it.

  8. Jimmy,

    This is a wonderful Tribute to your brother.

    JR Burns and I were like brothers. I shall never forget him. We had great times as young friends for life and also in the “Starlighters” Rock-N-Roll Band. I remember all the places we went and the Gigs we played. We were the very best band to come out of Texas and I contribute a lot to JR’s guitar playing. I was very blessed to have him play lead guitar for my band.

    We started playing and singing in the church and God richly blessed us with talent.

    Jimmy, thanks once again for the tribute to your brother.

    Billy Woodruff

  9. Jessie Wright TeddlieJanuary 6, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    Great blog as it got Billy to comment as well.I am not sure if he would remember me, but he and all the guys played with my brother,James Wright, in school.Great memories.

  10. Oh my gosh, thank you Jimmy and Judy for a walk down memory lane.

    This is a wonderful tribute to you, Jimmy and your brothers, Roy & J.R. Thank you for saving the past about your family. They were truly gifted.

  11. Nancy Martin Buzbee, Class of '62January 9, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    "Thank you Judy for blogging this wonderful story about the Burns boys. I loved their music."

  12. Clayton E GloverMay 29, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    I cannot wait to show my dad(Clayton Glover) this !!!

  13. Clayton, I'm so glad you found this article and will show it to your dad. He was a big part of this scene! Give him my best.
    Judy Richards Shubert


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