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1950s Guitarist The first to use Overdrive on a recording?

Posted by The MindMusicMentor on December 13, 2009

There have been many stories over who may or may not have stumbled on overdrive/distortion – usually 1960s guitarists – some refer to the Kinks Ray Davies, then Blues Guitarists like Buddy Guy who was experimenting with distortion/overdrive way before Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton exploded on the scene in the 1960s, and ofcourse Rolling Stone Keith Richards who used the Tone Bender Fuzz Box on the beginning of “I Can’t Get No satisfaction” on that iconic intro riff.

Guitarists were even getting overdrive from their amplifiers in the 1950s, unintentionallly when playing live… BUT…

Did one 1950s Rockabilly guitarist actually intentionally use amplifier overdrive on recordings back in the late 1950s… a guitarist that would influence Guitarists like Jeff Beck and even Jimmy Page… and the guitarist is…..

Paul Burlinson was the lead Guitar player for the Johnny Burnette Rock N Roll trio, This group recorded a handful of records between 1956 and 1957 – while they didn’t chart when released, they proved to be landmark recordings which influenced bands all the way through to today.

In his early days, at a Pre-Elvis Sun studios, Paul did session guitar work recording Guitar tracks for people like Blues pioneer Howling Wolf.

Paul’s other job at Sun Studios was as an Electrician, at the same time there was a truck driver who worked there called Elvis Presley.

Paul Burlinson… Probably the First Power Chord

One of the distinctive sounds of Paul Burlinson, was how he played two string chords – fretting the high E string, using one finger, and also the Low E string, using his thumb hooked over the neck, at the same time.

He would even sometimes play lead guitar using this same unusual technique.

Here’s a YouTube Link to the Johnny Burnette Trio recording of the Song Train Kept a Rolling, recorded in 1956, where you can hear this unusual power chord technique – which you can hear clearly during the solo.

Influence on Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck Guitarist extraordinarie all the way from the 1960s right through to the 2000s was heavily influenced by this song.

At  Jeff’s induction to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, he chose this very same song to play, Train Kept a Rolling.

Infact in the film Twins, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devitto, during the nightclub fight scene, Jeff Beck the Guitarist in the band, is heard playing… you guessed it… Train Kept a Rollin.

The YardBirds version … and creation of the modern power chord

The Yardbirds, probably one of the most influential 1960s groups featured originally Eric Clapton who was then replaced by Jeff Beck and also Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds eventually went on to become the New Yardbirds which finally became Led Zeppelin!

Jeff Beck, taking his love of original Rockabilly, persuaded the Yardbirds to open their sets with Johnny Burnette Trio’s Train Kept a Rollin; except Jeff being Jeff he added a little twist..

Instead of playing the power chord across the high and low E, Jeff played what today would be considered a more normal power chord – he would fret the fifth frets on the A and D strings and then hammer on the Low E between open and 3rd fret to get a more modern hard rock type sound… and he was doing this in the mid 60s.

Here’s the  link to the Yardbirds doing Train Kept a Rollin in 1966, some ten years after Paul Burlinson recorded with Johnny Burnette’s trio.

Featuring Jeff Beck on Guitar and Jimmy Page on Bass.

Back to Paul Burlinson… did he invent or stumble on distortion

If you listen to the original recording of Johnny Burnette’s Train Kept a Rollin, you might notice that Paul Burlinson’s guitar doesn’t sound clean, especially in the solo it sounds like their could be some overdrive from the amplifier?

Well a story about this suggests that when Paul was moving his amplifier, he might have accidentally dislodged one or two of the valves in his amplifier, but he actually liked this sound, so this became something that he did deliberately!

Paul Burlinson in 1997

Paul Burlinson continued to use this same type of sound throughout his career; here’s a link to Paul doing Train Kept a Rollin from 1997, although the end of the song with the harmonica sound is a nod to the Yardbirds who gave the song widespread popularity that it did not have in 1956 when originally released.

Rock N Roll Hall OF Fame

Despite not having any hit records in the 1950s with his pioneering Lead Guitar sound in Johnny Burnette’s Rock N Roll trio, which would influence Hard Rock and metal bands from the 1960s onwards.. In 2002 Paul Burlinson was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Sadly one year later, in 2003, Paul passed away.

 Although at least in his lifetime he did get recognition and acknowledgement to his massive contribution to Rock music, in particular his contribution to the power chord and also the overdrive sound.

Til Next Time




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