Elvis Presley guitarist James Burton reveals kidney cancer diagnosis

James Burton
(Image credit: Jon Super/Redferns)

James Burton – a Nashville-based guitarist who has played alongside Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and many more – has been diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Revealing the diagnosis on social media on Friday (September 30), the 83-year-old said he’s due to have an operation today (October 3) at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital, adding: “Even though I have a great team of doctors, I know God is in control.” He also asked his fans and followers to pray for his “total healing."

Born in Dubberly, Louisiana in 1939, Burton has worked with a remarkable list of musicians throughout his career, including The Everly Brothers, Glen Campbell, John Denver, Judy Collins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison and loads more.

But perhaps his most noteworthy gig was alongside Presley, as part of the rock and roll icon’s TCB Band. Burton played with the group for almost a decade, until Presley’s death in 1977.

A self-taught player, Burton is regarded by many as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll six-string players of all time. He has been a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001, when he was inducted by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. In his speech at the time, Richards said: “Let me put it this way: I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record.”

In an interview with Guitar Player, Burton recalled his time working with Elvis Presley, saying the icon “always worked real close with the musicians."

“The way Elvis liked to work was that he would listen to a record and sort of copy some of the things that caught his ear and he thought he could enjoy working with,” he said. “He had a certain way of singing other people’s songs, and he could even make them sound better sometimes."

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at GuitarWorld.com from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.