Sonny Burgess, Sun Records veteran and legendary rockabilly guitarist, has passed away at the age of 88.

While not one of Sun’s most famous mid-’50s six-stringers, Burgess was integral to early rockabilly, sharing bills with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Burgess’ 1956 debut single for Sun - “Red Headed Woman”/ “We Wanna Boogie” - was one of Sun's most raw, unpolished rockabilly tunes.

Rockabilly historian Colin Escott described Burgess’1956 debut as “punk before punk, thrash before thrash.” Although their music was classified as rockabilly, Burgess’ band, the Pacers, owed more to the horn-driven jump R&B of the 1950s: Burgess delivered an explosive over-amped guitar solo on “We Wanna Boogie” that became famous in its own right.

The Pacers’ shows were just as wild as their records – they formed a human pyramid onstage, and often dragged each other across the stage by their instruments. When Burgess attempted to dye his hair blond with peroxide, it turned bright red, enticing him to purchase a new, all-red wardrobe. “We had one of the greatest stage shows there was,” he once said. “It was like a three-ring circus. People couldn't watch just one of us.”

Sonny Burgess

After signing to Sun after the recommendation of Elvis, Burgess’ recordings also included a cover of the Hank Williams hit “My Bucket's Got a Hole in It” (1957) and the bluesy instrumental “Thunderbird” (1958). He later toured with Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, although he later turned down an offer to perform regularly on Cash’s syndicated TV show. By the 1970s, however, he’d disappeared from the scene.

In the mid-1980s, amid renewed interest in rockabilly, Burgess returned to touring with a group of Sun studio veterans, the Sun Rhythm Section, and later albums included Tennessee Border (1992), produced by singer-songwriter Dave Alvin of The Blasters, and Sonny Burgess (1996), produced by Springsteen’s bassist Garry Tallent. The latter even featured a Springsteen song, “Tiger Rose”" which Springsteen and Burgess later performed as a duet at a benefit concert in Red Bank, New Jersey, for victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Burgess played a variety of Gibsons throughout his career, from large bodied ES-models in the ‘50s to the ES-Les Paul in his later years.