In the early 1950s, Burgess played boogie woogie music in dance halls and bars around Newport. Burgess, Kern Kennedy, Johnny Ray Hubbard, and Gerald Jackson formed a boogie-woogie band they called the Rocky Road Ramblers. In 1954, following a stint in the US Army (1951–53), Burgess re-formed the band, calling them the Moonlighters after the Silver Moon Club in Newport, where they performed regularly. After advice from record producer Sam Phillips, the group expanded to form the Pacers.
The band's first record was "We Wanna Boogie" in 1956 for Sun Records, in Memphis, about 80 miles southeast of his birthplace. The flip side was "Red Headed Woman." Both were written by Burgess. The songs have been described as "among the most raucous, energy-filled recordings released during the first flowering of rock and roll." Their onstage antics in performance were similarly described. Like other artists such as Ray Harris, Hayden Thompson, Billy Lee Riley and Warren Smith, chart success largely eluded him.
In 1990 (possibly before and afterward), Burgess toured with The Sun Rhythm Section. This group was composed of former session musicians from the Sun Recording Studio. Beside Burgess, band members included Paul Burlison (electric guitar), J.L. "Smoochy" Smith (piano), Stan Kessler (bass), Marcus Van Story (acoustic guitar & lead vocals), and D.J. Fontana on drums. Fontana was a member of Elvis Presley's band (1955-1968).
Burgess was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of Europe in 1999. His group, now called The Legendary Pacers, was a hit that same year in a rockabilly concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. It recorded Still Rockin’ and Rollin’ in 2000, voted the best new album in the country and roots field in Europe. The group was inducted in 2002 into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Burgess hosts a weekly radio program called We Wanna Boogie with co-host June Taylor. The program, named after his first record, airs Sunday nights from 5-7pm Central Time on 91.9FM KASU in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Burgess graduated from Newport High School in 1948. Burgess has two brothers, and three sisters. Burgess was formerly married to Joann Adams starting in 1956, and they have two sons, Peyton and John. Between performances, Burgess lives in Newport.
- Country Rock (1969)
- The Old Gang (1976)
- We Wanna Boogie (1984)
- Sonny Burgess and The Pacers (1985)
- Raw Deal (1986)
- Spellbound (1986)
- We Wanna Boogie (Best-of compilation) (1989)
- I'm Still Here (1990)
- The Razorback Rock & Roll Tapes (with Bobby Crafford) (1992)
- Tennessee Border (with Dave Alvin) (1992)
- Hittin' That Jug (Best-of compilation) (1995)
- Sonny Burgess Has Still Got It (1996)
- God's Holy Light (1997)
- Tupelo Connection (2001)
- Back To Sun Records (2003)
- Tear It Up! (2006)
- Gijon Stomp! (2009)
- Live At Sun Studios (2012)
- Sonny Burgess and the Pacers
- Critical acclaim in 1996
- Radio program hosted by Sonny Burgess.
- YouTube video of "We Wanna Boogie" with Sonny Burgess (and the Legendary Pacers?) with pianist Kern Kennedy "playin at High Rockabilly 2005 (Spain)."