Country singer Sonny Burgess will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at Neon Therapy Country Club. Courtesy photo

Special to the Progress

Only one independent country artist has sold more CDs in 2007 than the man who will perform Saturday night here in Jacksonville.

Fort Worth native and Nashville sensation Sonny Burgess will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Neon Therapy Country Club.

Growing up in Cleburne, Burgess was constantly surrounded by country music. Just down the road from Fort Worth, Sonny was immersed in the music his family loved. Hank Williams, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark and Chet Atkins were the regular musical fare during the evenings as Sonny and family gathered on the front porch.

Inspired by the stories woven in the touching and haunting melodies, Burgess taught himself to play the guitar. Learning at the “school of hit records” and through an inherited musical ear (both his aunts and uncles made up a country group that toured throughout Texas), Burgess quickly grew into his own as a player and singer.

And, when he played for a live audience, he really liked how that felt. From his first public performance in the second grade, he was hooked.

“I remember it was the only time I got the attention of my first real crush,” Burgess said. “But it was really the reaction of my peers and teachers that made me feel like this was something I really wanted to do for the rest of my life."

In Texas, where sports are a religion of their own, Burgess’ other natural gifts - exceptional athleticism - found their moment in the sun as well. The first adolescent jewel he sought was a baseball diamond.

But, anything that is soul-splittingly competitive requires the complete investment of the heart to succeed. He loved baseball but after a stint on a professional ball team, Burgess soon realized that the song he heard on the breeze was calling him out of the dugout to sing it, not just listen to it.

By his early 20’s, when Sonny hit the end of his baseball path, he met life’s relentless responsibilities in a hodge-podge of jobs. These professions included substitute teaching, being an electrician, a railroad worker, even a swimming pool installer. They all fed the family and the new dream of being an artist. Through all the changes, the one thing that took center stage was playing music wherever, whenever and however he could.

“We’d always do what we had to do to make it work,” Sonny recalls. “One time my band and I played three gigs in one day. It was one of those ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ things. We kicked off the first one about 10 a.m/ just rearin’ up like bulls. We darn near dropped dead about 2 a.m. the next morning finishing the last one.”

As the circle of gigs got bigger, it stretched out of his hometown, even out of Texas, landing choice gigs in Fort Worth and beyond to Nashville. The attention the gigs brought garnered the ears of record executives in Nashville. This brought the inevitable good lessons hard earned. Standing here today Sonny demonstrates that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

In 2001, Music City Records released When In Texas and seemed to crystallize all the hope and potential Cleburne had seen in its favorite son for years. It notched four top 10 singles in the key Texas music charts and brought him the first opportunities to play venues such as the venerable Grand Old Opry, Nashville’s Fan Fair/CMA Music Festival, The Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville and Orlando.

He also made his national television debut on Crook and Chase. If it wasn’t “the yellow brick road,” it was an important stepping stone.

Changing management in 2003 opened further doors to stages such as Cheyenne Frontier Days, Fort Worth country stalwart Billy Bob’s, even major rodeo events in Las Vegas. After changing management, Burgess was inducted into the Texas CMA Hall of Fame and he opened three times for President Bush on the 2004 campaign trail.

Persevering along the path brought an introduction to Karen Herbst who knew a good thing when she saw it. She jumped into the boat with Sonny as his manager. Karen, in turn, introduced Sonny to veteran Nashville hit music-maker Jeff Teague.

The sophomore album Stronger was produced by Jeff. It’s a clear-eyed statement by Burgess.

Together Jeff and Sonny picked prime peaches from the Nashville song tree. When the record boasts songs from Leslie Satcher and Larry Cordle (Jesus and Bartenders), George Teren and Chris Waters (What Else Could Go Right) and Paul Overstreet and Mickey Cates (Anytime I’m Smiling), you know the right trees got shook. Add the unique touch of a man who knows how to say what he wants to say and you have a complete artist.

Recently released singles Jesus and Bartenders, The More I’m Around Some People, The More I Like My Dog and A Little Bit Stronger have been proven great successes.

Sonny’s first single off of his current album Stronger, titled Jesus and Bartenders landed in the top 10 of the Texas chart and top 50 of the Music Row Chart. The video accompanying the single was also picked up on Great American Country (GAC).

The More I'm Around Some People, The More I Like My Dog spent four weeks at number one on the Texas Music Chart and became the highest charting single on the Music Row Chart for an independent label with one artist. The corresponding video appeared on CMT's new digital Channel Pure Country, several syndicated shows and numerous regional video outlets.

In support of The More I’m Around Some People, The More I Like My Dog, Burgess teamed up with Bark Busters to support dog lovers and promote responsible dog ownership. He also taped public service announcements for the Humane Society of the United States.

In the fall of 2006, Sonny released the ballad, A Little Bit Stronger that peaked on the Texas Regional Radio Report at No. 4, Best In Texas chart at No. 6 and Music Row chart at No. 31. This was Sonny’s third single off his current album, Stronger. The song was co-written by Aaron Barker, who has written hits for other fellow Texans including George Strait, Lonestar, and Willie Nelson.

In December 2006, Burgess released his first Christmas single entitled The Stars Haven’t Changed Since The Night When He Came. Written by acclaimed inspirational writer Jon Mohr and producer Jeff Teague, the song tells a heavenly story inspired by the events of the original Christmas Night. “It was one of those rare finds that I wanted to record immediately,” said Sonny. “I was very excited to be able to release such a classy song as my first Christmas release.”

Aside from Sonny’s heavy tour schedule, he is actively writing new songs with some of Nashville’s notable writers including, Joe Diffie, Clint Daniels, Shane Minor and Kevin Fowler.

 Most recently, Sonny’s music was featured on Roy Cooper’s Roping My Dreams DVD, including two new songs recorded specifically for the documentary about this eight time world champion roper. The two new singles not being on any Burgess album yet was featured on the January 2007 Volume 50 of CDTex compilation distributed to all country radio. One of the two singles was a special Sonny tribute to Cooper’s life and roping legacy called Cowboy Cool.

At Country Radio Seminar 2007 - held in Nashville the beginning of March - Burgess was recognized as the second highest spinning artist on a small independent label and his label was third highest spinning small independent label.

Apart from his musical persistence, Burgess is actively involved in many charitable organizations including the Cystic Fibrosis organization and the Children’s Advocacy Center.

Today the grip is stronger and surer than ever; the twinkle in the eye sincere to the soul and the determination has grown deep roots. Yes, it’s a Texas thing; it’s a good thing and it’s a timing thing ... Sonny Burgess.

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