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Legendary Pacers set for Rockabilly Festival

Sonny Burgess & the Legendary Pacers will be appearing at third-annual Arkansas Delta Rockabilly Festival in Helena on Saturday, May 11, at 4 p.m. The two-day event begins Friday and features an array of such acts as The Kentucky Headhunters, Wanda Jackson, Sleepy LaBeef and Ace Cannon.

“This is the third year for this festival. I think it is starting to get more and more popular. A lot of good artists will be there this year. We are proud to be a part of it,” drummer and band leader Bobby Crafford said in a recent phone interview.

It is amazing to see a veteran group like this rremain as active as they do. Their itinerary stays chocked full of upcoming performances literally all over the world, which is pretty amazing when you consider that all members of the group are over the age of 70. Additionally, the Pacers are in their 58th year as a touring band.

“Somehow, we just keep on doing it,” Crafford stated. “We like to play all of the time. Music is our life. It’s in our blood. A lot of people assume we have to roll out on stage in a bunch of wheelchairs, but I can promise you that we can hold our own with a lot of these young groups.

“Now, we drink a lot more water and lemonade these days,” he continued with a laugh. “We use to drink a little stronger than that, but we’ve never lost that desire to entertain the audience. It’s what we love to do.”

With one glance at their past appearances and upcoming engagements, it is almost mind boggling how many foriegn dates that the Pacers play. They have been welcomed with open arms on stages from Spain to Sweden.

“I constantly get calls from all over wanting to book us,” Crafford said. “It amazes me. Of course, we call our music Rock and Roll, but overseas, they call it ‘rockabilly.’ And man let me tell you in some places, especially Europe, they absolutely go nuts over old-school, rock music.”

As for the front man, Burgess is a music legend. Born in Newport, he grew up loving everything from the traditional country he heard on the Grand Ole Opry to the Rhythm and Blues records that were played on Memphis radio stations.

Burgess and the band signed with the Memphis based Sun Records label and released their debut record in 1956. It was a two-sided hit, featuring “Red Headed Woman” and “We Wanna Boogie.” The release sold more than 90,000 copies.

Since that beginning, Burgess has simply kept doing what he does best. Countless shows, album releases and interviews have followed. Now more than a half of a century later, the 83-year-old music veteran is still hitting the stage night after night, delivering his brand of music.

Aside from Burgess and Crafford, the remaining members of the Pacers are Kern Kennedy, Jim Aldridge and Fred Douglas.

Their raw, authentic rockabilly sound remains a breath of fresh air among other music genres.

These guys have enjoyed a career that most musicians could only dream about. They were contemporaries with such household names as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison.

“We’ve seen and done a lot,” Crafford concluded. “We’ve worked with a lot of big names and had a good time. It’s been some kind of a ride. And we’re not done yet.”

Beebe writer Charles Haymes is a member of both the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at chaymes@sbcglobal.net.

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