Emmylou had worked with Gram Parsons on his albums GP and Grievous Angel. While working with him, she met James Burton and Glen D. Hardin. After Gram died in 1973, she signed with Warner. They told her to get a ‘Hot Band’ and that is exactly what she did.
For Harris, assembling her first Hot Band with legendary guitarist James Burton was a key reason she drew crowds to her early shows after releasing her major label solo debut album in 1975. Burton’s career as a studio musician had already included classic recordings with Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Buck Owens, Johnny Rivers, the Monkees and many others.
“When I first started, nobody did know who I was,” Harris says. “But I felt having James Burton — probably the greatest country guitar player, one of the great guitar stylists in the world — there were people coming just to see him. And that did not bother me at all. In fact, I loved it. It almost took the pressure away.”
James left the band in 1976 and was replaced by Albert Lee, but Burton kept recording with the band until 1981, when they recorded Cimarron.
The Hot Band also participated in a number of outside album projects with producer Brian Ahern, including sessions for Jonathan Edwards, Rodney Crowell, Mary Kay Place, and Jesse Winchester. James remembers the dilemma he faced on the title track to Winchester’s Nothing But A Breeze: “Brian wanted me to play bottleneck on my Tele, but it’s hard to do because of the arch in the round neck. I didn’t have a dobro bar with me, so I asked around and somebody there had a Zippo lighter. I laid the Tele on my lap like a dobro, and played the solo with the Zippo for a slide. It was pretty neat.”
2004 had the first reunion of the original Hot Band including James Burton (electric guitar), Rodney Crowell (acoustic guitar), Hank DeVito (steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass), Glen D. Hardin (piano), and John Ware (drums). The reason for this reunion was the presentation of ASCAP’s prestigious Founders Award to Emmylou Harris.
In 2008, Emmylou headlined the third James Burton International Guitar Festival.