By Steve Todoroff

We are starting a new monthly series here on the Church Studio Blog, where we will cover some of the early releases from the past where Oklahoma musicians appeared together in the studio, more often than not on other artist’s records.

Starting us off is a popular rockabilly artist and songwriter from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s by the name of Johnny Burnette. In late 1958 Burnette signed a recording contract with Freedom Records, an offshoot of Liberty Records, where he released a string of singles under the Freedom Records label. By 1959, the Freedom label was shut down and Burnette moved to the parent label, Liberty Records, where his recordings stood a better chance of succeeding. And they did. His fourth Liberty single, “You’re Sixteen” reached number 8 on the Hot 100 chart.

By December, 1961 Burnette was a popular artist in the Liberty Records stable, and he was back in the studio recording his fifth and final album for Liberty. Among the musicians that played on this album were three (3) musicians from Oklahoma. Two were veterans of studio sessions, and one was just starting his session work career.

Okies On Record – Johnny Burnette sessions December 11-12, 1961

  1. Barney Kessel – guitar  (Muskogee, OK)
  2. Tommy Allsup – guitar (Owasso, OK)
  3. Leon Russell – piano (Lawton, OK)

Kessel was the veteran of the three, having started his studio work in 1947. Allsup was no stranger to the studio, however, having recorded with the late Buddy Holly beginning in 1958 at Clovis, NM. Russell was just starting his session career, and in fact this was his first legitimate union session since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

The results of this session can be heard on the Johnny Burnette album “Johnny Burnette’s Hits And Other Favorites”. Burnette’s career was cut short when his fishing boat was struck by a cabin cruiser on Clear Lake, located in California, drowning the young singer/songwriter on August 14, 1964.

Rusty Russell

Rusty Russell spent his high school and college years in Wichita, Kansas, attending Wichita State University on a trumpet performance schollarship. His dabbling on guitar became an obsession, and he left school for a years-long stint in Denver, playing in club bands and teaching guitar privately. After a brief return to Kansas, Rusty answered a call for a road gig based in Nashville. From 1984 until his move to Tulsa in 2019, Rusty worked in Nashville as a guitarist and bassist on tours, in clubs, and in recording studios. He also built careers in journalism (a decade as Nashville Editor for Guitar Player Magazine, writing hundreds of articles for GP and other national publications) and photography. Rusty was a contract shooter for Getty Images, and also shot dozens of album/CD and magazine covers & articles. His musical road work includes touring with artists like Louise Mandrell, George Fox, Blues legends Charles “Wigg” Walker and Johnny Jones, and The Burrito Brothers (on bass). After thirty-six years in Nashville, Rusty moved with his wife, Lynn, to Tulsa to be near his extended family. He’s currently busy with club work, a few recording sessions, and teaching advanced guitar students.

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1 Comment

  1. Randal Berry on August 30, 2018 at 5:43 am

    Since Snuff Garrett was a staff producer for Liberty Records during this time, is it possible that this was the first time Leon and Snuff met?

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