He was so far above and beyond me in musical talent and accomplishment that it approaches a brash sacrilege to refer to me and him on the same musical planet, much less this article. Byrd passed away at age 61 with a rare form of cancer on March 10, 2008, at Vanderbilt Hospital, and he and his immense talent will be sorely missed by the artists in Nashville who benefitted from his work—Dolly Parton, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Rodman, Suzy Bogus, Nanci Griffith, Brooks & Dunn, Don Williams, The Oak Ridge Boys, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, John Conlee, Judy Rodman, TG Shephard, Bobby Braddock, Pinkard and Bowden, and Bobby Bare, to name just a few.

Barry grew up in my sleepy little East Tennessee hometown of Rogersville, where his first claim to fame was as a starting forward/center for the Rogersville High School Warriors basketball team. He was 6 foot, 5, and he attended Hiawassee College on a basketball scholarship for a short time after graduation. I say a short time, because it wasn’t long before his high school buddies (who had started college at the University of Tennessee), Terry Johnson and Doug Graham, coaxed him to get over to Knoxville so the group could get serious about their true passion—playing music. But excuse me, I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Who, the Yardbirds, Them, Herman’s Hermits, and a slew of other rock bands were a part of the “British Invasion” of America of the 1960’s. Everybody remembers the four consecutive Ed Sullivan Show appearances of the Beatles in 1964 probably as vividly as the moon landing in 1969. America went nuts over the new musical phenomenon, and it generated an equal number of talented, successful American groups: the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chicago, Credence Clearwater Revival, and many others.

None of us were immune to the influence, and the Rogersville group of music-makers—led by Barry Burton—grabbed the brass ring of rock music at about the right time. These musicians started as “Terry & the Casuals,” and this was in and around Rogersville, but by the time they began honing their craft in Knoxville, they had become “The Loved Ones,” and they were good...real good. I can remember the one occasion that The Loved Ones played a gig at “The Barn” in Rogersville. The Barn was a former auto body shop/warehouse-type building turned teen hangout/dance place across the street from the First Baptist Church cemetery. The hangout was started by Ernest R. “Doc” McConnell, who is now a world-renowned storyteller and snake oil salesman, and whose traveling medicine show appears frequently at events across the country. At one time, Doc was my Scoutmaster at Troop 100 of the Boy Scouts in Rogersville, and incidentally, Barry Burton was an alumnus of that troop.

That night, I was standing in the middle of the concrete, oil-stained dance floor, staring at the band as Barry Burton strapped on the semi-acoustic Rickenbacker electric 12-string, and the band started playing “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds. This must have been in 1968, but I remember it as clearly as if it were last night. I was frozen to the floor; I couldn’t believe that anyone could play such a difficult guitar intro to a song like “Eight Miles High” and it be a flawless rendition exactly as played by Roger McGuinn. And Barry didn’t just stand there and idly play the notes on the guitar with precision; he attacked the fretboard, punctuating the melody at the high points with a jerk of the guitar neck and rolling the instrument through the low notes. Not only did Barry and the boys know their music right down to the bare nitty-gritty, but they played their music with an unforgettable fire—lost in the passion for what they were doing. That moment is how I will always remember Barry Burton, and the influence of it was not lost on me or on my twin brother, David.

The Loved Ones were the first wave of the “Hawkins County Invasion,” and in the popular vernacular, they ruled. The world may have had Eric Clapton, but Hawkins County, Tennessee had Barry Burton. I never knew all of the particulars of what ultimately happened to The Loved Ones, but I know that the group nearly secured a recording contract in New York City with Roulette Records. The deal fell through, but Byrd went on. He played lead guitar on “Third Rate Romance,” the seminal, Grammy-winning hit for the “Amazing Rhythm Aces” and toured the world with that group for a while. He then settled into a prodigious career as a session musician within the vast recording industry in Nashville.

Our high school class had its rock music aficionados, too. In 1964 as eighth graders, Benny Wilson, George Rogers, my twin brother, David, and I made our first appearance in a Rogersville Grammar School-sponsored 4-H Share-the-Fun contest. We billed ourselves as “The Missing Links,” and we barely knew how to play music. George had a snare drum and an 8-inch cymbal. Benny had a black-sparkle Silvertone guitar with an amplifier in the carrying case, and David and I were playing twin bronze-colored Danelectro’s through a small amp with a ten-inch speaker. We all wore yellow, short-sleeved dress shirts, blazing red vests with big gold buttons (which our mothers had sewn) and green-and-white striped denim bell bottoms. We played two original songs (we didn’t know enough yet to “cover” someone else’s hits): “Ruby,” 90% of which was a Ventures-style instrumental and 10% Little Richard (the lyrics were: “Oh! oh! Ruby! Come on, baby!”) which Benny sang, and another little instrumental ditty which resembled the “Peter Gunn” theme song.

The crowd of pre-teens in the school auditorium went ballistically nuts. This was in the Beatles/Ed Sullivan Show time frame and it’s easy to understand that anytime four boys got on stage with guitars and rocked ’n’ rolled—or at least made the attempt—the audience would respond accordingly. They did, and we were hooked. We were not yet even in high school, and we had—in our eyes—achieved rock star status! What’s more, we won the purple ribbon, too. For the next five years we played music, practiced, and played more music. Somewhere along the line, we became “The Trolls.” Bill Rymer, now a practicing psychologist in Greeneville, Tennessee replaced George Rogers on drums. We brought in Mike Pyne to play the keyboards and Harold Walker to fill in at rhythm guitar.

We played at the Tennessee Valley A. & I. Fair (as it used to be called); a dance hall in Gate City, Virginia; “The Barn;” the Battle of the Bands in Knoxville; 4-H Shows; venues in Kingsport; East Tennessee State University frat parties; the local Fourth of July celebration (the high school marching band was not available so the organizers, wanting music in the parade, had us set up on the back of a flatbed truck. We were powered by, and drowned out by the roar of, a gasoline generator); a county Democratic Party festival which filled a downtown parking lot; on television in the “March of Dimes Telethon” (I got my picture taken, with my bass guitar, exchanging pleasantries with actor Clu Gulager); and at the Pleasant View Community Club in Bulls Gap (after one gig there, we lost some transportation and had no way to get our gear back to Rogersville except to stuff it, and ourselves, in a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair. We had to strap the P.A. system speakers to the roof of the car).

And then there was the frat party at the University of Tennessee on the old “frat row;” we had borrowed an “echo box” for special effects, which had a tremendous impact on our rendition of the Doors’ “The End.” Some of the crowd said, “You guys are better than ‘The Loved Ones’.” I knew better, but Benny Wilson was quite an entertainer, and he was the showman of our band. During one performance, he took his guitar and did a shimmy-shimmy dance with it by scooting it back and forth on his rear. “Come on, Ruby,” indeed! We were at least a ripple, if not a wave, of the second “Hawkins County Invasion.”

Unavoidable circumstances removed me from guitar playing, but a countervail pushed Benny toward Stardom. He went off to East Tennessee State University, obtained a Bachelor's Degree in environmental health, and then became a country music singer. In the early ’80s, while I was thrashing about in the trenches of the Federal bureaucracy in Jackson, Mississippi, the country band, Alabama, came to town. Benny was a member of Janie Fricke’s “Heart City Band,” which warmed up the audience. He got me VIP tickets to the side of the stage. It was the same old Benny, and it was good to see him back on stage. Benny continues his rise to the top. He is now a popular act in Upper East Tennessee and has a huge following. The Trolls’ contemporaries in our rock ’n’ roll high school days were the “Odds & Ends” from Surgoinsville. Johnny and Billy Greer, Alvin Case, and Sammy Manis made up the group, which originally wanted to call themselves “The Vandals,” but Doc McConnell refused to allow them to play at the Barn with that name. “No prob!” they said, “It’s not the name; it’s the music!”

The Odds & Ends were better than the Trolls. Billy could play bass guitar better than me, and he knew and understood what I failed to grasp—that even a mediocre bass guitar can sound great through a quality amplifier. While I struggled to make my Gibson EB-2 sound decent through a Fender Bassman with two 12 inch JBL’s, Billy held onto an off-brand bass guitar, but ran it through a Sunn bass amp with a couple of 15-inchers. He also understood that the bass guitarist and drummer were the critical backbone of any band and that their respective performances had to harmoniously mesh in every respect in order for the group to have any sound worth hearing. A snare drum rim-shot, or any heavy beat, sounds great when accompanied by the low punch of the bass guitar.

But the Trolls’ lead guitarist, my brother Dave, was an equal, if not a better, guitar player than Alvin Case. I must admit that when our Maker handed out guitar skills to the Hyder boys, I must have been behind the door, because David got them all. He still rocks ’n’ rolls with bands in central Ohio. He was with “Contraband” during the Reagan administration and with “DotCom” in the late 80’s. But, still, the Odds & Ends were a force to be reckoned with in our Hawkins County days, at least until Johnny Greer was drafted into the armed forces and the band folded.

Billy Greer found his way to Atlanta in the mid-1980’s and was tapped to play bass for “Streets,” a group put together by Steve Walsh, who had just recently left the mega-band, Kansas. After a couple of albums, Walsh and Billy became a part of the third Kansas and the group has been touring the planet ever since. Billy’s huge success validates the third wave of the “Hawkins County Invasion.” And that brings us back to Barry Burton.

On April 18, 2008, at the behest of Billy Greer, Kansas took a break from their tour to give a benefit concert in tribute to Barry Burton at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Greeneville, Tennessee. Billy didn’t just play at the tribute; he had personally promoted it by traversing the Tri-Cities area weeks prior to the event, meeting with local newspaper and radio staffs and thus generated significant publicity. On stage, he attributed his success to Barry Burton. It was the grandest of rock ’n’ roll concerts and the rough equivalent to Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party:” people came from miles around, and everyone was there.

Maryville, Tennessee’s “Dixie Highway” opened the show with blazing country and rock ’n’ roll. The “B Team Blues Band,” led by Terry Johnson (one of Barry’s old buddies) followed. Kansas took the stage, and it was easy to see the reasons that the band has achieved high acclaim. They of course played their signature hits, “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” but they also played what I can only describe as rock arias—disciplined but tight, complicated rock anthems. For me, it was the musical equivalent of the first time I saw Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the exciting twists and turns never stopped, and it kept my musical reflexes working.

After the show, my brother David told me, “Nobody does what they do,” a compliment to Kansas’ distinctiveness. All of Kansas’ members are musical craftsmen. Their show left me both exhausted and exhilarated. Kansas is not your average arena rock band; they are polished craftsmen. As part of the third wave of the Hawkins County Invasion, Billy Greer has risen to the top of his craft.

Driving home, my brother and I took pride in the fact that we had been a small part of our home county’s music legacy, and we were pleased and impressed that the legacy—and invasions—have continued into the new century and beyond.


Stephen T. Hyder is an attorney engaged in the private practice of law in Maryville, Tennessee. He is originally from Rogersville, Tennessee, the State's second oldest town, and he infrequently writes on a wide variety of subjects.

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