In 1968, James was working with Frank Sinatra when Elvis called him. Elvis wanted James to be part of his NBC show that would later be known as the ’68 Comeback Special. Because James was so busy with his studio work, he was unable to work with Elvis. A year later however, James got another call from the King and this time, James was available.
While on the phone, Elvis told James that he really loved his playing and that he used to watch the Ozzie and Harriet show just to see James play with Ricky Nelson at the end of each show. Elvis asked James if he could put together a band for the upcoming Las Vegas engagement. It would mean that James would have to give up some of his lucrative studio work, but James told Elvis he’d do it.
The first person he called was pianist Glen D. Hardin, a fellow Shindog, who turned him down. He then called Larry Muhoberac. James was also turned down by drummer Richie Frost a fellow Ricky Nelson band member. James had recently worked with bass player Jerry Scheff. Scheff didn’t want to do it, but he went to the auditions and was just blown away by Elvis’ performance. John Wilkinson, the rhythm guitarist had agreed to do it. The only musician they needed was a drummer. James assumed it would be a session player called Gene Pello, but Muhoberac told James about Ronnie Tutt, with whom he had worked with in Dallas. Ronnie Tutt auditioned and got the job.
July 18, 1969: In James Burton’s recollection, “Right off the bat we probably learned 150 songs over six nights of work”. It was obvious that Elvis really admired James. During his ’69 performances, he always introduced James as his favourite guitar player.
One night, a little Asian girl came up to the stage, and Elvis asked her if she wanted a scarf or a kiss. She said no. Elvis than asked, “What do you want?” The girl said: “James Burton.” Elvis started to laugh, and then walked her over to James, who gave her a kiss. After that, she asked Elvis for a scarf and a kiss.
In 1975, Emmylou Harris had hired both James and Glen D. Hardin for her Hot Band. She would plan her tours around Elvis’, so she could have both men in her band as well. In 1976, Glen D. left Elvis to play for Emmylou, James chose Elvis and remained with him until Elvis’ untimely death in 1977.
Standing Left to Right: David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Elvis, Al Pachuki, Jerry Carrigan
Below: Felton Jarvis, Chip Young, Charlie McCoy and James Burton after the sessions at RCA’s Studio B, Nashville Tennessee, June 1970.
James didn’t only play his Pink Paisley guitar on stage with Elvis. He used at least 4 different guitars. His Maple Red Tele, which he used on Ricky Nelson’s records, the Pink Paisley, which was given to him by Fender in 1969, the carved Tele and a Blonde Telecaster.