Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash Guitarist James Burton Undergoes Major Surgery, Updates Fans on His Health

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Back in September, legendary country and rock guitarist James Burton revealed that he had received a cancer diagnosis on social media. In the following months, Burton would ask his fans to pray for him as he went through treatment. Recently, Burton delivered some great news. He’s officially cancer free after a surgery that he calls a “miracle.”

James Burton first shared his diagnosis in a Facebook post on September 30. “I have been diagnosed with kidney cancer and I am scheduled for an operation on Monday, October 3rd at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville,” he wrote. Burton added that he had a great team of doctors behind him. However, that didn’t stop him from turning to the Great Physician for some extra help.  “I know God is in charge. I would personally appreciate your prayers for total healing.”  

The surgery went well. Then, on Wednesday, November 2nd, he shared some amazing news with his followers. “The Cancer Doctor at Vanderbilt just told me that I AM CANCER FREE,” he wrote in a Facebook post. However, Burton says that his fight isn’t over. He’ll go in for regular MRI scans every three months to be sure that his cancer remains in remission. He added, “I still have a long road to recovery but YOUR PRAYERS were heard by GOD. Thank you all and GOD BLESS YOU.”

James Burton Is a Living Legend

James Burton has one of the most impressive resumes in the music world today. In the 60s, Burton was a member of the loose collective of studio musicians called The Wrecking Crew. Countless artists tapped this crew because they were some of the best in the game. As a result, Burton recorded with Frank Sinatra, The Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Towns Van Zandt, Vince Gill, Suzi Quatro, Willie Nelson, and several others.

Burton is also an influential guitarist. He originated the percussive and melodic guitar style called chicken pickin’. It gets its name from the clucking staccato accent notes. If you’ve listened to country music, especially honky tonk, you’ve heard chicken pickin’.

In 1969, when Elvis Presley was ready to get back on stage after years of making movies, he called James Burton. Burton assembled Presley’s 5-piece TCB Band. He played guitar for Elvis until the King’s death in 1977.

In a 2019 interview with NPR, James Burton gave God all the credit for his prowess on the guitar. “I’m self-taught. I taught myself to play, and my teacher was God. He was the greatest teacher in the world. He taught me how to play guitar, he gave me my direction in music.”