Saturday, December 10, 2011

Folk Singer Bob Burnett of The Highwaymen has Died

Bob Burnett, second tenor with the Highwaymen, died Wednesday (December 7) of brain cancer at his home in East Providence, Rhode Island. He was 71. Bob started the Highwaymen with Dave Fisher, Steve Trott, Chan Daniels and Steve Butts

Originally calling themselves the Clansmen, they eventually changed their name due to its unsavory connotations. The new moniker came from the Alfred Noyes poem of that name. After honing their act for two years on campus, the quintet travelled to New York, where they quickly picked up a manager, producer and recording contract. 

Their first single on United Artists Records was "Santiano," centering on the California Gold Rush, with the classic folk tune, "Michael (Row The Boat Ashore)" on the B-side. Released during the height of the "folk boom" in January of 1961, it should have sailed to the top of the charts. It did, but not without a struggle. It wasn't until a Worchester, Massachusetts DJ turned the record over that summer that "Michael" reached #1 for two weeks. By then UA no longer had the group under contract and had to pay to get them back. 

"Michael" was followed early the next year by the double-sided hit, "Cotton Fields" (#13) and "The Gypsy Rover" (#42). The group steadfastly refused to leave school, performing only on weekends, which slowed their success. 

"I'm On My Way" only reached #90 in 1962 and "The Bird Man" finished their chart run at #64 that year. Bob left the group to the Army Reserve, then moved on to Harvard Law School in 1967. Putting music behind, he had a long career in law and banking. A lawsuit filed by the original Highwaymen against the later Johnny Cash-Willie Nelson-Waylon Jennings-Kris Kristofferson incarnation was settled amicably when Dave's group opened a concert for the others and then granted them limited use of the name.