Last Sunday (June 4), a stellar lineup of electric guitar greats came together at the London Palladium to pay tribute to James Burton, a legendary guitarist most famous for his tenure as Elvis Presley's six-string sidekick.
In a nod to the immense scope of Burton's influence, the show's lineup spanned both genres and generations: from classic rock A-lister Brian May, to acoustic guitar maestro Tommy Emmanuel, and younger blues guitar aces like Arielle and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, to name just a few participants.
To emphasize the inter-generational spirit of rock n' roll, May also invited an even-younger guest to the Palladium stage for a set-closing jam on Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, 11-year-old Britain's Got Talent sensation Harry Churchill.
Churchill – for those who haven't been following along in recent weeks – has gone viral twice over for his show-stopping displays of six-string skill on the much-watched competition reality show, first for a phenomenal medley of Queen classics and later for a fiery (literally) display of shred that almost earned the youngster a spot in the competition's final round.
Churchill, to his credit, hardly seems fazed by the star power around him, and is even given the honor of kicking the performance – which you can see below – off.
Churchill also takes the first lead break, executing – just as he did on Britain's Got Talent last week – a smooth impression of Berry's famous 'duck walk' and some tasteful licks, before ceding the spotlight to Arielle, who takes things in a slightly bluesier direction.
Ingram, May, and, of course, Burton himself, also contribute some slinky, satisfying solos to the proceedings.
“Ladies and gentlemen, rock is a river,” May tells the crowd prior to the performance. “You've seen the river flow tonight – three or four generations all inspired by the amazing James Burton.”
In an interview with Guitar World earlier this year, May listed Burton – along with early rock guitar pioneers Buddy Holly and Hank Marvin, and latter-day influences like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Pete Townshend – as one of the guitarists who most shaped his playing.
“When I look back on it, I don’t think I could have been born at a better time," May explained. "As kids we were so lucky to have grown up in that period when things were bursting through and all the boundaries were being broken.”
As if the names above weren't enough rock royalty for the evening, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood also made an appearance, lending a hand on the rockabilly standard Suzie Q, among other tunes.
Both Wood and his Stones bandmate, Keith Richards, were enormously influenced by Burton. Richards even said, when inducting Burton into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, “I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record.”
Wood – wielding a gorgeous Gibson Les Paul – was also on hand to back up one of the show's other top-tier guests, Van Morrison, for an impassioned version of Worried Man Blues.
The Burton tribute show was a one-night only event, but Burton himself said, while sending off the crowd, “I can't wait to do [this] again.”