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 60 miles east 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.
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, Jackson, Tennessee.
Sonny 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.