William Beau "Billy" Burnette III (born May 8, 1953 in Memphis, Tennessee) is an American guitarist and singer who was part of the band Fleetwood Mac from 1987 to 1995.
The son of Dorsey Burnette and Alberta Burnette, Billy was literally born into a musical family. His father and his uncle Johnny Burnette were two of the members of the 1950s Rock 'n' Roll trio which also included Paul Burlison. It is written that Billy performed on occasion with the Trio around the age of three. Johnny had a son born around the time Billy was born named Rocky who also became a musician. It has been said that the term "rockabilly" comes from the combination of the two cousins' names, Rocky and Billy, however that is an unconfirmed rumor.
By the late 1950s, Billy's family moved to Los Angeles where his dad and uncle worked with Ricky Nelson who had Burnette-penned hit songs with "Believe What You Say" and "It's Late." At the age of seven, Billy, under the name Billy Beau made his record debut recording the Christmas song "Hey Daddy (I'm Gonna Tell Santa On You)" for Dot Records. The song was recorded with James Burton and Ricky Nelson's band. At age 11, Billy recorded his first album for A&M Records. Two years later, Billy went on tour with Brenda Lee while teaching himself to play guitar in the meantime. Like countless other guitarists, Billy learned to play by listening to others rather than taking lessons.
Immediately after graduating from high school in 1969, Billy's father took him to Memphis to meet famed record producer Chips Moman, who had just finished recording Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" and "In The Ghetto". According to Billy, "When you went to work with Chips, you were a writer, you were a session musician, and you learned about the studio." Billy went with Moman to Atlanta before going to Nashville in 1971 and collaborating with Larry Henley whose credits include "Wind Beneath My Wings." "That's when I really started concentrating on songwriting." Billy once said. In addition to songwriting, Billy spent three years on the road as Roger Miller's rhythm guitarist.
In 1972, Billy signed with Entrance Records and recorded his first self-titled solo album featuring 10 songs all written or co-written by him. In 1976, Billy became a father, Dorsey IV (aka Billy, Jr.) Billy signed with Polydor Records in 1979 recording a second self-titled album. Once again, Billy's songwriting prowess showed as nine of the ten songs were written or co-written by himself while he covered "Believe What You Say". Later that year, the album Between Friends was released. The title track "What's A Little Love Between Friends" peaked at #76 on the Billboard US Country Top 100 Singles spending five weeks on the charts. Nine of the ten songs from the album were Burnette-penned tunes, excluding the Otis Redding classic, "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay."
Billy signed with Columbia Records in 1980 releasing his third eponymous album. He was able to get on the Billboard US Hot 100 Singles with "Don't Say No", which peaked at #68 and spent five weeks on the charts. Eight of the eleven songs from the 1980 release were written by Billy, while two of the songs he covered, "Honey Hush" and "Tear It Up" were performed by his dad and uncle and "One Night" was a cover of an Elvis song. Billy also recorded music videos for "Don't Say No" and "In Just A Heartbeat".
Billy released his fourth album in three years in 1981 with Gimme You. All ten songs from the album were written or co-written by Billy. Around this time, Billy met Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame during the shooting of a Dick Clark Anniversary Special. A few months later, Fleetwood invited Billy to join his new band, The Zoo, which released an album on RCA in 1983, I'm Not Me. Of the eleven songs on I'm Not Me, Billy sang lead vocals on three, the Beach Boys' cover, "Angel Come Home", a cover of his own song from Gimme You, "I'm Not Me" and a cover of his father and uncle's song "Tear It Up."
His connections with Fleetwood lead Billy to connections with other members of Fleetwood Mac. Burnette, performing with The Zoo backed Lindsey Buckingham during a 1982 Saturday Night Live performance (The Zoo's debut as a band.) In 1984, Billy co-wrote the song "So Excited" with Christine McVie which was used on her solo album that year. He also appeared on McVie's live MTV taping "Christine McVie The Video Album". Billy then sang with Stevie Nicks on the song "Are You Mine" which was meant for her Rock A Little album but the song did not make the final cut. In 1985, Eddy Raven and Ray Charles both charted with Billy Burnette songs. Other artists who have sung Burnette-penned songs include Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers,Gregg Allman, Loretta Lynn, and Ringo Starr.
Billy signed with Curb Records and released his sixth album in 1985, Try Me. The album featured both Fleetwood and McVie in several of the album's ten songs. The title track peaked at #68 and remained on the charts for nine weeks, while another track from the album, "Ain't It Just Like Love" went to #51 and was on the charts for eight weeks. In 1986, Billy released another album, Soldier Of Love. The title track peaked at #54 and remained on the charts for 7 weeks. For his efforts, Billy was nominated for Best New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music along with Randy Travis, Marty Stuart, T. Graham Brown, and Keith Whitley. However, the award was presented to Randy Travis. In 1987 he wrote “All I Can Do Is Dream You” for Roy Orbison.
When Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac parted ways in 1987, Billy along with his friend, guitarist Rick Vito, were asked to join the legendary band. The decision to join Fleetwood Mac was not easy for Billy, "When I got the call from Mick Fleetwood, things couldn't be going better for me. I had just been nominated for the ACM Award. MCA/Curb, my label at the time, was behind me, and they didn't want to let me go. I was in the studio, working with Roy Orbison on his last album, "Mystery Girl". I thought about it for a while. But I was faced with the prospect of a world tour with Fleetwood Mac, as opposed to going back into the trenches with club work on my solo career. Of course, I wasn't going to turn down the Fleetwood Mac tour. It was huge. Tango In The Night was out. After I went out on the road with them, I think they sold another eight million records." As far as the tour, "It was an incredible experience. The audience never stopped screaming - never sat down hit after hit - it was amazing!"
After the Shakin' The Cage tour, Fleetwood Mac released the 1988 Greatest Hits album featuring two new songs with Billy and Rick, "As Long As You Follow" and "No Questions Asked." That same year, Curb released its final Billy Burnette album, Brother To Brother which was essentially a greatest hits package with the title song added, which was featured in the movie Gleaming The Cube.
Fleetwood Mac released their first Burnette/Vito studio release in 1990, Behind The Mask. Billy co-wrote several songs including "In The Back Of My Mind", "Do You Know", with Christine McVie, and "When The Sun Goes Down" with Vito. "Hard Feelings" and "When It Comes To Love" were written by Billy as well. The tour in support of the album took the band all over the world for nine months. One of the most well-received songs played live was "Tear It Up".
Vito and Nicks left Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1991 and Christine McVie decided to take a break from touring. However, Billy continued to be committed to working with the band if and when they decided to call again. Billy worked for a few years as a producer and guitarist, and made a guest appearance together with Rick Vito on Troy Newman's album "Gypsy Moon". In 1992, Billy signed with Capricorn records to release his eighth solo album Coming Home. Although the song was not on the Coming Home album, Billy made the Billboard US Country Top 100 Singles again with "Nothin' To Do (And All Night To Do It)". The single peaked at #64 and spent six weeks on the charts. At the same time, he helped John McVie with his first solo album, John McVie's "Gotta Band" with Lola Thomas.
Many of the songs from Coming Home were featured in Billy's acting debut, the film Saturday Night Special co-starring Maria Ford. Between 1994 and 1998, Billy appeared in several films including Not Like Us, Carnosaur 3: Primal Species, Casper Meets Wendy, Addams Family Reunion and Richie Rich's Christmas Wish.
In 1994, Billy got back together with Fleetwood Mac. This time around, the band featured two new members, long-time friend, vocalist Bekka Bramlett and guitarist Dave Mason of Traffic fame. The band toured in support of the album Time which was released in 1995. Billy wrote "Talkin' To My Heart" and "I Got It In For You" with Deborah Allen. Together with Bekka he wrote "Dreamin' The Dream". The early tour proved to be a disastrous marketing decision and severely hindered album and ticket sales. In late 1995, Fleetwood Mac went on hiatus. Billy and Bekka decided to venture out on their own as a country duo. According to Billy, "Had it not been for Fleetwood Mac, this duo never would have happened."
When Bekka moved together with Billy to Nashville, they got the attention of famous country music producer Garth Fundis. Garth decided that he wanted to make a record with the new duo. Billy and Bekka signed a contract with Almo Sounds and in April 1997 they released their debut album, Bekka And Billy. "Garth has let us make the record we wanted to make. We're really lucky in that aspect." Billy said of the album. Bekka And Billy contained twelve songs, all written by Billy or Bekka with the exception of "God Knows I Love You" which was written by Bekka's father, Delaney Bramlett. In early 1998, the duo decided to go their separate ways. The exact reason for the parting remains a mystery, however both Billy and Bekka remain good friends to this day.
In 1999, Billy signed with Grand Avenue Records and released All Night Long. All eleven songs on this album were written by Billy. The next year, Billy released All Night Long, a rockabilly album through and through. Released on the Free Falls Entertainment label, the album had twelve Billy Burnette originals and one cover, "Believe What You Say." Between 2001 and 2005, Billy stayed busy, covering Steve Earle's song "Copperhead Road" for the Steel Cowboys: Biker’s Choice Vol. 1 album. Billy also recorded Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" for Dressed In Black: A Tribute To Johnny Cash. Billy joined Bob Dylan's backup band and toured with him for a short time. In 2005, Billy joined John Fogerty as a supporting member of his band playing rhythm guitar.
After several years hiatus from making his own albums, Billy released a live album February 28, 2006 titled Memphis In Manhattan. Released under the Chesky Record label, the album was recorded in St. Peter's Church in New York City. According to an interview by Chris Neal of Country Weekly magazine, "We did it right on the altar. It was wild. The crucifix is right there, and we're playing rock 'n' roll in a church. But you need all the help you can get when you're doing a live album." Unlike his previous releases of the past, Memphis In Manhattan featured more cover songs than Billy Burnette originals. Of the eleven tracks, five were co-written by Billy. Among the covers are Bob Dylan's "Everything Is Broken", Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", Elvis' "Big Hunk Of Love", Ricky Nelson's "It's Late", "Tear It Up" and the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love."
On Thanksgiving of 2006, Billy performed with Fogerty during halftime of two NFL games in Detroit and Kansas City. Billy also performed with the Mick Fleetwood Band with Rick Vito, George Hawkins, Jr. and of course Mick Fleetwood. In April 2007, it was announced that Billy would be releasing a box set CD and video DVD under Adrenaline Nation Records in June 2007. Adrenaline Nation Television was supposed to broadcast the video DVD concert in June, and have the concert available for download via the Internet, however that did not happen and no news was given as to the future of the box set or the concert.
In September 2007, Billy along with Shawn Camp released a bluegrass tribute to Elvis Presley. The album features 13 tracks previously recorded by Elvis with Camp and Burnette alternating lead vocals on every other song.