A Set For Johnny Burnette

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Today we remember another fantastic singer-songwriter who was taken too soon.

John Joseph Burnette was born on March 25, 1934 in Memphis, TN. He began his music career in 1952 in a group called The Rhythm Rangers with his brother Dorsey Burnette and their friend Paul Burlison.

When the group disbanded, Johnny went to California with his brother. They camped out on the steps of the Nelson home, waiting for Ricky. They hoped that he would have a look at their song writing skills. Their efforts payed off! Ricky was impressed with their work. Some of the songs that Johnny Burnette wrote for Ricky Nelson were “It’s Late” and “Waitin’ in School”.

Johnny’s own solo singing career was highlighted in the early 1960’s. Let’s have a look at some of his hits below:

“You’re Sixteen”

This song was Johnny’s biggest and most well-known hit. It peaked on the US charts at Number 8 in 1960. “You’re Sixteen” is a hallmark of The Malt Shop era and has been famously featured in movies such as 1971’s “American Graffiti”

Right then. Next up is the song with practically the same name.


Dreamin’ is off the 1959 album with the same name. It peaked at Number 11 on the US charts in 1960. To me, this is Johnny Burnette’s defining song. It’s a great example of the era both in the trademark sound and in the lyrics. And the orchestra part is cool too.

“Little Boy Sad”

In 1961, “Little Boy Sad” (written by Wayne Walker) made it to Number 17 on the US charts and to Number 12 on the UK charts.

On the night of August 14, 1964, Johnny Burnette died in a boating accident in Clearlake, CA. (not to be confused with Clear Lake, IA, the location of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.)

This tragedy, which took Burnette’s life at the age of 30, forever leaves a hole in the hearts of fans who appreciate his music. It’s not every artist that can be a performer and a song writer. Johnny was both.

Thank you for reading my post on Johnny Burnette. If you liked this post, you can follow Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era ever here on WordPress.

You can also follow Retro Dee on Twitter @RealRetroDee and on Instagram @mariepascal82

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