Pryor drummer Roy Burris passed away on Tuesday at the age of 79.
Burris’ most famous claim to fame was as co-writer of Merle Haggard’s 1969 No.1 hit “Okie From Muskogee”. At the time, Burris (then going by Eddie) was the drummer for Haggard’s backing band, The Strangers.
Haggard’s signature song was written on their tour bus after Haggard saw a highway sign indicating the distance to Muskogee, Oklahoma. Haggard woke Burris up and they finished the song in 10 minutes.
“We were traveling all over, and it just seemed like whenever we came back to Oklahoma, we didn’t hear about drugs; we didn’t hear about riots. Oklahoma wasn’t caught up in all that, it didn’t seem like. Every time we went into Muskogee, it was just a fine, clean town.” - Roy Burris
After being born in Tulsa, Burris’ family moved to Bakersfield, California. He later joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Korean War, before become a rodeo bull rider. His friend Doyle Holley, who later became Buck Owens’ sideman, hired him as a drummer for his band in 1960.
“I told him I was a drummer. Of course, I’d never played drums in my life. I gave my brother-in-law $65 for a set of Salvation Army drums he had, painted ‘em green, and played the next night. Not well.” - Roy Burris
A couple of years later, his drumming skills would catch the attention of Haggard, another musician with Oklahoma roots, and they would play together throughout the rest of the 1960s. Burris left the music business in 1970 and became a truck driver until he retired.
Burris co-wrote other songs with Haggard, such as “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)”, “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”, “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me”, “Everybody’s Had the Blues”, “If We Make It Through December”, “Always Wanting You” and “It’s All in the Movies”.
“Songwriting just came easy with Eddie because he could paint such a picture. He lived it and then put it into words. He was always quick to offer a story. He was a storyteller in the truest sense.” - Jay Lankford, friend
Services are set for 10am on Friday at Stephens Funeral Home in Pryor.
After the jump, watch and listen to more songs co-written by Burris.