Born in Minden, Burton moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, with his family in 1949. He is self-taught, and was playing guitar from his childhood.
By the time he was thirteen years old, Burton was playing guitar semi-professionally. A year later was hired to be part of the staff band for the enormously popular Louisiana Hayride radio show in Shreveport. Burton left Shreveport for Los Angeles, California while in his teens after joining Ricky Nelson's band. In L.A., he made numerous recordings as a session musician. Burton moved back to Shreveport permanently in 1990.
Burton played the guitar solo on Dale Hawkins 1957 hit song "Suzie Q," a record that would become one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Burton's later career included work with Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, and Emmylou Harris, among others. In 1988, he was a prominent part of the acclaimed Cinemax special, Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night.
Clearly not one to be pigeonholed, yet known best for his crisp Telecaster style that fits country and early rock so well.
Here he is with 2 other greats, Chet Atkins and Albert Lee, showing why he's a seminal influence on modern rock guitar:
Here's James' website: http://www.james-burton.net/
Here's the RealPlayer file of SuzieQ. The lick is familiar, having been copied by John Fogerty in the Creedence Clearwater version of the song. But my God, the solo!
Myth has James playing this at age 15, but 18 is more likely. Still, 18, in 1957, that's some serious rock'n'roll taking place.
Here's the video link from James' page, featuring the Atkins/Lee video, as well as several others. Check them out, great stuff.