Happy birthday, Hank!
Hank C. Burnette was born the youngest of three kids (a brother & a sister filled out the rest of the family) on December 12,1944 in the little northern town of Sveg, Sweden and was christened Sven-Åke Kenneth Högberg. The proud parents both had musical backgrounds, his mother sang and accompanied herself on guitar at local gatherings and his grandfather built violins and guitars (and bred dogs!). Sven-Åke's interest in music came at a very tender age, three years old he had already learned to sing a few sea chanties at the top of his lungs (to the neighbors delight and his parents embarrasment). In 1949 he got his first guitar, OK, a toy guitar, but still a guitar.
Two years later, 1951, the family moved to the little village of Brattmon, close to the Norwegian border, where he also began school. His big influence during this time was the Swedish master of the accordion, Carl Jularbo. Which, eventually, in 1953 (when Elvis did his first waxings for Sun) led to him picking up the accordion himself, encouraged by an old village character called Poo.
Sven-Åke still continued to sing the Swedish hits of the time though (which consisted mainly of 99% translated American chart climbers) and playing old traditional accordion tunes on his Hagstrom Granesso "pump organ".
During the autumn of 1956, in the midst of Sven-Åkes 5th grade in school, the Högberg family moved again, this time to the city of Umeå way up in the northern part of Sweden and that's where he finally became familiar with the real deal - true American rock'n'roll music. The first rock'n'roll artist he discovered was, not surprisingly, Bill Haley. And from now on many where the dimes and nickels that saw there way into the slots of Umeå's jukeboxes to satisfy Sven-Åke's ever rising need for this exciting new type of music. But, although ole "Hillbilly" Haley & His Comets were quite able to kick up some ruckus, it really wasn't until a certain young truck driver from Memphis arrived on the scene that our young Swedish hero was totally blown to pieces! As he later recalled:
-It was like a full blown tornado had hit me! This mean-eyed rebellious looking cat with a sneer grin on his upper lip, dark greasy pompadour hairdo and sharp sideburns, accompanied by a big, boxy Gibson J-200 loosely slung over his right hip, really looked like...something, to put it mildly! And with a name like Elvis Presley, where the hell did he come from...outer space?? And his music was, of course, nothing less than a cultural shock to me! He, right there and then, totally changed my way of thinking, my way of performing, my way of playing and gave me my first genuine insight into what real down-to-earth, red hot rootsy rock music was all about! And from then on it was goodbye trifling accordion waste-o-rama and hello real gone red hot down to earth US of A rock'n'roll music that mattered and nothing else!!
The change didn't come that abruptly though, as Sven-Åke by popular demand from his classmates was still crooning out those old perennial Swedish chart toppers, but suddenly decided it was time to "upgrade". So he rented a trumpet (!) at a local music store, just to bring it back a few days later (much to the neighbors relief!) when he realized that he'd probably picked the wrong tool for his stairway to rock'n'roll stardom! Oh, well...not one to let that discourage him, he soon had some more creative tools up his sleeve when a brand new little Philips Mignon record player came into his life. That was definitely also the end of his trifling accordion days!
He was eager though to expand his abilities on the guitar further, so he signed up for a guitar course at a local music store. His teacher, Rune Sandberg ("a pretty cool and totally jazz triggered player, who'd been around since the early 40's and knew his Django and Charlie Christian chops inside out", according to Sven-Åke), soon discovered that Sven-Åke already knew nearly as much as he did himself. So instead of going through the usual beginner's routines, Rune concentrated more on developing quite jntricate chord progressions (based heavily on straight jazz standards, such as "Crazy Rhythm", "Lady Be Good" and "12th Street Rag") for Sven-Åke to sink his teeth into. And during the actual class lessons he let him front the rest of the pupils by playing improvised and quite intricate single string patterns, much to his own great satisfaction. And after the actual class lessons Sven-Åke almost always stayed on for an extra hour or two, playing and discussing guitar music in general with Rune and in the process learned quite a few new tricks of the trade from the old veteran. This would become real handy when he later started messing around with tape recorders and began cutting his very first sound-on-sound tracks. In fact, he cut his very first offerings already in 1958, at a friend's house and soon rented a monstrous L.M. Ericsson tape machine at a local radio shop, without even knowing how to operate it. Sven-Ake:
-/ couldn't for my life figure out how the heck you were supposed to be able to change between the two available tracks when recording, let alone make the two of them play back (which is done simply by reversing the reels!), so I unscrewed the combined recording/playback head and turned it upside down, screwed it back on again and, hey, presto, I had another track on my hands to fool around with!
Determined as hell he decided it was now time to kick some real ass and quickly formed his own five piece band tabbed Teddy &The Teddy Bears (after Elvis' big hit), made up of four boys from the neighborhood with the same approach towards music as himself. The band consisted of Sven-Åke (vocals/rhythm guitar); two brothers Häggström, Lars (bass) and Bo (rhythm guitar); Bo Riddarström (lead guitar) and Björn "Böna" Carlgren (drums). After playing just a few proms, Sven-Åke was voted the town's un¬disputed "King Of Rock'n'Roll" when the band played their real first big venue on July 23, 1959, at an outdoors show at Döbelns Park, Umeå.
Sven-Åke and the Band was in extreme demand for anything from local parties to big dance hall shows! However, after only close to a year in existence, they began to spread apart musical wise. Sven-Åke himself, for instance, began feeling a bit restricted doing only vocals and really wanted to broaden his horizon and spend more time concentrating on developing his guitar technique. He got what he craved for by listening to guitar twangers like James Burton, Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore and was soon able to absorb the very essence of great rock guitar playing at its very best. He would even go as far as to copy Scotty Moore's solos, note for note, off Elvis' records. This eventually led to that rival band leader Johnny Blomqvist begged him to join his band, The Little Johnny Combo, later renamed Little Johnny & His Red Dynamites, as a lead guitar player.
Teddy & The Teddy Bears eventually played their last show on December 13, 1959 and disbanded in January 1960 when Sven-Åke joined Johnny's band and became a full time musician.
In the summer of 1960, Sven-Åke thought he deserved a vacation and moved further up north to visit his sister living in Strömsund, Jämtland. Apart from helping out in her family's bakery, he also managed to make several stage appearances, both in Strömsund and in the much larger city of Östersund, backed by local musicians on all occasions. During this time band leader Johnny had got the band booked for a week at an amusement park in Umeå. And with Sven-Åke back in town again they played the gig and appeared on the same bill as Rock-Ragge and a host of other crerne de la creme Swedish artists of the time.
The neighbors were brought to a somewhat abrupt awakening that night when all hell broke loose and the old building practically shattered to pieces under the stomping pressure of classics like "The Saints Rock'n'Roll", "Reelin' & Rockin'", "Guitar Boogie", "I'm Feelin' Sorry", "A Mess Of Blues" and "Sweet Little Sixteen". Allan, the piano player, went hog wild during the outro of "Sweet Little Sixteen" and accidentally knocked a bottle of Coke off the top of his piano, which hit the wooden floor with a big bang...oops, what a rare sight to behold! The tape was sent to Ewe's Ljudkopia in Stockholm and soon evolved into a 10" mini LP (inci. Coke bang and all!), presented in one copy each to every member of the band, period! A SUPER rarity for all you HCB fanatics out there to track down!! Sven-Ake:
-After a while we seemed to be getting less and less bookings, and the reason for this was because of our popularity. The audience would stand on tables and chairs, which broke when they jumped on them. It would mostly cost more to repair or revive the damage interior than it would cost to pay us our fee of 25 Swedish crowns a piece!
Later the same autumn the band broke up and Sven-Åke and the rest of the Högberg family moved south to Stavsjö, a small village between the cities of Norrköping and Nyköping in the midst of Sweden, where he started studies in radio engineering. The local newspaper soon found out about his background and did a front page article about him.
In the spring of 1962 he did his last (?) public performance at a place called "Träffen" in Nyköping, singing Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again", accompanied by his own guitar playing. Shortly afterwards he bought a brand new Tandberg tape recorder and did his first real "sound-on-sound" recordings using his soon to be famous one-man-band technique.
The following year he expanded his arsenal of studio equipment even further. He now also saw fit to start a rather prosperous import/wholesale business, which eventually led to a gratifying import of loads of obscure 45's (he bought up almost every remaining ORIGINAL Sun single from Tom Phillips' (Sam's brother) Select-O-Hits in Memphis, among other things!) and hard-to-get LP's! And while he was at it, he incorporated a complete and brand new pearly white drum kit to his instrument collection, plus a Kay Flat Top acoustic, a Supro 'Comet' lap steel, a Dynachord Echo-King amp, etc. The same year, while diggin' thru leaflets from small and obscure record labels, he spotted the US Blue Horizon label out of Warrington, Florida in the batch and got in touch with half Cherokee indian (!) prez Larry Stevens. Hank:
-It just hit me that I should send him a tape of some recordings I had done and two weeks later I got me a record deal!
In February 1967 Hank's first record on Blue Horizon was released with "Hank's Guitar Boogie Shuffle", recorded as early as February 18, 1962, backed with "Hambone Shuffle" (Blue Horizon 106) and it got extremely good reviews. The follow up was a four track EP, which he put out himself in Sweden, pressed on the same label and in only 100 copies. The tracks were "All Mama's Children", "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You", "I Want To Be Free" and "Young and Beautiful" (Blue Horizon EP 10). All songs were recorded during the spring of 1964.
At the same time he received an offer from Globe Studios in Nashville, who wanted him as a producer and engineer, an offer he declined. By 1968 he had done about 1000 recordings. He also did musical backgrounds for Danish singer Peer Ivan and for U.S. country singers Don Haugen, Frank Darris, Cal Price, Gena Malone and others.
Because of the popularity of the record, a fan club was also hitting the ground at this time, handled by Miss Lynn Sheffield out of Fitzgerald, Georgia and she had special earrings made up out of different types of guitar picks, as a free gift for all the female club members. Regular picks very also offered, engraved with the HCB logo.
Bad health forced Hank to undergo an operation in 1970, which kept him hospitalized for quite some time. But in early 1971 he was back in full swing again and began cutting a track which later would turn out be his biggest achievement recording wise, at least in terms of sales.
In March 1972, the Seagull label released the original version of "Spinning Rock Boogie" b/w "Bet Your Bottom Dollar" (Seagull SG-1016). Both tracks were finished March 3, 1971. The A-side took about two months to record and is perhaps the most outrageous record he has ever done, while the flip side is an instrumental remake of Jack Scott's "You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar". Hank did get a very good response to this one and soon a new 45 was available, now on his own Wildcat label. The reason for starting his own label was simple. Seagull was really more of a straight country label and Larry Stevens was perhaps not the world's greatest admirer of out and out red hot rockers (hence the distribution of SG-1016 wasn't exactly the greatest around, although it got raving reviews from the trade papers!). So Hank simply put two and two together and decided to broaden his horizon from a "one man band" to a "one man label" operation, which, in retrospect, happened to be a very clever decision.
The year 1974 was to be a hectic year for Hank C. Burnette. The wheels were turning faster and faster and he was putting more and more pressure on himself as time rolled by. He also upgraded his instrument park even further and bought the best studio equipment he could find and as a result rebuilt his own studio localities from scratch. At approximately the same time he was voted "Scandinavia's King of Rock" by the Norwegian "Whole Lotta Rockin"' magazine. He was also invited to appear on the Swedish TV show "Tratten" but declined as they wanted him to appear with a studio band which he thought would be to his disadvantage and the gimmick with "sound-on-sound" recordings would be lost. The same year UK rock star Shakin' Stevens spoke highly of Hank and told everybody that he was the proud owner of all Hank's releases. And according to U.K. rock'n'roll aficionado Danny Reddington, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zep fame both had standing orders for every new HCB record that hit the counters of his Reddington's Rare Records shop in Birmingham during the mid 70's! Can't beat that with a stick, can ya?! In October 1974 he got a phone call from Dag Häggqvist of Sonet Records, who'd seen his name creeping up all over the place in different trade & underground press. A two year contract was swiftly signed and Dag sent him a brand new Revox A-700 tape recorder to confirm the deal. In 1975 he dug down into his musical archives and after some new overdubbing he could send Sonet a tape with 51 vocal tracks and 57 instrumentals and came out with a very good contract for a brand new Sonet album that was signed on August 9, 1976. In September Sonet decided, in conjunction with Hank, to release a shortened and more "commercial" version of the old Seagull recording, "Spinning Rock Boogie", which Hank had put the final touches to a few months earlier by redoing the intro and shortening the entire tune from over 4 minutes to just under 3 minutes. "Don't Mess With My Ducktail" was on the reverse (Sonet 2094). The same month also saw the release of the Sonet album "Don't Mess With My Ducktail" (Sonet 693). Hank:
-"Spinnin' Rock Boogie" started out as a blank piece of left over tape that I didn't know what to do with. So, I simply went bananas, pulled all the plugs and pushed my old Tandberg to its limit! The actual recording took place in January, 1971 in half the space of a make shift garage (the other half was occupied at the time by my dad building bird cages, I kid you not!!). Instruments used was down to an old Hagstrom "plank" from '60 and a Supro 'Comet' lap steel that I imported as a trade sample in '65 from Claude Breton Exports in New York. The drum sound heard was produced by a battered German made Lefima snare with an attached crash cymbal the size of a normal dinner plate, period! Good grief, the things you do to ruin your career! Low tech or not, this little piece of home cooked patchwork turned out to be my most deliberate and successful recording ever! Ain't music a strange and fascinating craft!
The tune was played on every possible radio station and at the end of September, early October the record sold an impressive 4000 copies a day. Hank got an offer from BBC's "Top Of The Pops" to appear, but did not go for reasons explained before. Sonet in England did a promotion film that was shown on practically every TV channel throughout Europe, incl. Sweden. And Italian TV RAI used the song as a theme for a TV series called "70's Round". Close to the end of the year Hank was at the top of the UK charts and everything seemed to go his way and nothing could go wrong. With all this amazing success on his hands, other performers like Mike Berry (of "A Tribute To Buddy Holly" fame), Peter Eden (Shakin' Stevens producer) and Larry Brown (of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" fame) frequently sent Hank material which they hoped he'd record. He also wrote a lot of material himself, which got recorded by Jerry Williams and Shakin' Stevens among others. To top the bill, the legendary SUN label (now in the hands of Shelby Single¬ton) decided to release it in the States on a nationwide angle. In early 1977 the album was released in gold vinyl, an extremely rare procedure at the time and previously only carried out by RCA for an Elvis album! In fact, they were both pressed at the same pressing plant in Philadelphia! So far, Hank's the only European that's been featured on "the Yellow SUN Records", the world's most prestigious roots rock label ever!!
Remarkable enough, when all this was happening, Hank held a regular eight-hour day job during the days. It was in the evenings he cut loose and created all this music that was selling like hot cakes. No follow-up single was issued and the next album "Rockabilly Gasseroonie" didn't appear until 1978. The last Sonet album "Hot Licks And Fancy Tricks", with its first 10,000 copies pressed in gold vinyl, was released in 1980.
A fourth album was planned by Sonet, tabbed "I've Got Rock", but due to heavy work, Hank never got around to get any new and fresh material cut, so it fell by the wayside. When the recording contract with Sonet was up for renewal it never materialized to a continuation. Swedish label Star-Club released their first album by Hank the same year -1980 - entitled "No. 1 Rockabilly (33-8006). In 1981 Star-Club issued two more albums, both re-issues of at the time deleted alburns. First came the old Southern Sound album "Spinnin' Rock Boogie" (33-8013) and second "Multisided" (33-8014) which was originally on the dutch Diwa label. Hank did his last recording in 1983, but Star-Club Records released "Melvin L. Rockbottom - Lunatic Boogie" (Crazy 33-CR 13) in 1985. This album consisted of previously unreleased material from the 60's and 70's. The same year Hank told journalist Mats Östberg:
-Music has always been and will always be a part of my life, but not to the extent that it becomes a necessity. Call it a hobby or whatever. It's just something I do because I like it, simple as that! I never really got around into making a business out of it and this is probably the reason why things happened the way they did. But it was a busy time. I could hear the phone ringing before I opened the door to my apartment and it kept on ringing for years, literally. Finally it got to the point where it was just too much. I got tired of being myself making all kinds of music and not getting the feedback a live performer gets from performing in front of an, hopefully, enthusiastic audience. I just lost the feel for it. I also had custody of my son and I just couldn't stick my head in the sand no more and run away from "the real life" surrounding me. I had obligations to tend to.
Yes, Hank had made up his mind and during the spring of 1984 he sold all the guitars he had bought over the years, the recording equipment and just about everything else that reminded him of music in any sense and quit the business. He held several other jobs during this time like lathe turn, milling-machine operator, fitter, caretaker and working as an engineer at a local radio station for a couple of years. Although he never even touched a guitar during this period, records by Hank, made up from his huge library of recordings, kept coming like a rapid stream of water. In 1989 Star-Club released the labels 5th Hank C. album with the title "Rock-Ola Ruby" (Hank 1973-74). Hank again:
-In the late 80's and early 90's a lot of the local radio stations wanted interviews and in spite of my impolite manners to get them off my back some got what they wanted. And suddenly, like somebody pulled out a plug, letters came flowing in from all imaginable corners of our globe, the telephone began ringing almost continuously, record companies wanted recordings and disc jockeys wanted interviews.
Hank didn't know what to do, he had not touched a guitar for years. At the same time his 18 year old son Josef had caught the interest of rock'n roll and blues so Hank bought him a white Washburn Eagle electric and a Marshall amp to match and things began to happen:
-I had not touched a guitar since 1984 and I got a tremendous kick out of my son Josef when he began playing good old rock'n roll and steamed up blues. I just had to get myself a guitar too and I did. My fingers felt stiff in the beginning but together we put the pedal to the metal and kept on rollin'! And, to my delight, I could feel the old familiar rock'n roll licks getting back into shape again and suddenly I realized what a waste the last 8 years of my life had been! Cause, I started out with music almost before I could talk and I sure as hell ain't finished yet!!
Hank's son has got the same taste in music as his dad and really digs stuff that's got old blues and rock roots stamped all over it. His favourites include a lot of the old blues legends, as well as a huge array of Sun and Chess artists.
Not to forget his rockin' dad, of course, which means the world to him. And today, together they do what they like most of all, kickin' ass playing good ole rock'n roll music all night 'til broad daylight.
Bo Berglind, Erik Pettersson & Hank C Burnette (www.americanmusicmagazine.com November 1995)
In 2001 "Don't Mess With My Ducktail" was re-released on CD by Darrow Entertainment/Bonnier Music, including eight bonus tracks, soon followed by "Rockabilly Gasseroonie" which had six bonus tracks, and in 2002 "Hot Licks And Fancy Tricks", also with six bonus tracks. A new CD, "Straight From The Hip" with twenty new tracks was also released in 2002. Now, 2005 Hank C Burnette releases his first Greatest Hits album, "Blast from The Past", twenty of the best tracks from previous albums, including four unreleased tracks.
Main Hank C Burnette posts at Viva Puluba!
Our first post about my dear Hanck C Burnette
The Hank C Burnette complete and official discography:
Dont' miss Hank's YouTube channel.
This text was sent to us by Hank C Burnette. We want to thank him for his help to our effort to spread his music and his work.