Rockabilly singer, songwriter and guitarist Sonny Burgess — who became one of Sun Records' stars with his raucous and unbridled whoops and howls, accompanied by his furious guitar — died at age 88, on Aug. 18 in Little Rock, Ark. Burgess' son John told the New York Times that the cause of death was complications from a fall, but the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette noted Burgess had also been struggling with issues related to diabetes.
In recent years, Burgess was one of the hosts of a weekly program for member station KASU at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ark.; the show was named We Wanna Boogie, after one of the songs on Burgess' first recording for Sun Records.
"He had a true R&B voice, like a tenor sax in full cry — short on subtlety and delicate shadings, but a magnificent rock'n'roll instrument," music historians Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins wrote in their 1991 book Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records And The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll. They continued, "Burgess' vocals were complemented by his guitar playing: rough, intense and blues-drenched."
Born May 28, 1929, Burgess was raised on a farm near Newport, Arkansas. He grew up listening to shows from the Grand Ole Opry, and started out playing with friends in local bars and dance halls in a band they called The Rocky Road Ramblers. His original dream was to be a professional baseball player, but after a couple of years spent in the minor leagues, Burgess entered the U.S. Army, and served in West Germany during the Korean War.