Johnny didn't want to go on stage, but to make his $20 he had to play.

ohnny didn't want to go on stage, but to make his $20 he had to play.

Sonny Burgess and his band just opened for Johnny in front of a crowd at B & I's King of Clubs. He told the burgeoning musician he had no choice. A king was waiting in the wings.

Johnny Cash went on stage that night, and Elvis Presley soon followed. It's been almost six decades but Burgess still remembers that night, and he hopes to share that story and many others with tourists in northeast Arkansas.

Lawrence County officials broke ground Tuesday morning on the Guitar Walk, a monument that will honor early rock 'n' roll legends such as Presley, Cash, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Burgess. About 70 people attended a ceremony where the Guitar Walk will be located, just south of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Office on U.S. 67.

"Sonny Burgess and the Pacers opened for Johnny Cash that night," Guitar Walk committee member Charles Snapp said. "Hearing that story sent shivers down my spine ... Johnny Cash was opening for Elvis Presley that same night, and it was only 12 miles from here."

Rockabilly legends Billy Lee Riley, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Wanda Jackson will also be honored.

Rock 'n' roll was born during the early 1950s in cities like Memphis and New Orleans, but it was cultivated in small towns, honky-tonks and juke joints along U.S. 67 that stretches from Newport to Pocahontas.

During the last couple of years a movement has been under way to commemorate the area's ties to its musical past.

The first step was erecting a memorial to The Beatles last September. In 1964 The Beatles made their lone stop in Arkansas as a group at the Walnut Ridge Airport.

A more ambitious project, the Guitar Walk, was then started, Snapp said. The plaza will be 100 feet long and 40 feet wide.

It will be shaped like an Epiphone guitar, similar to ones used by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Although the two Beatles' legends never played in Northeast Arkansas, Lennon was once famously quoted saying "he never felt anything" until he heard Presley's music, Snapp said.

Life-sized silhouettes of the legends will ring the inside of the guitar, strings will be cut into the concrete, and even the enlarged frets will be made from brass, Snapp said.

An audio tour, a system similar to ones used by the U.S. Forestry Service and Arkansas Parks and Tourism, will tell visitors unique stories about the singers and will be narrated by Burgess, who was on hand Tuesday at the ground-breaking.

Burgess will tell personal stories, outlining his experiences with rock 'n' roll immortals.

Presley, Cash and others began playing at venues in Newport, primarily the Silver Moon nightclub, in the early 1950s.

Jackson County is one of the few wet counties in Northeast Arkansas, so it became a magnet for residents in other counties who wanted to drink. The Bloody Bucket, B & I's King of Clubs, Red's Clover, Charlie's Place, GB's, Jarvis' Bamboo Club, Porky's Rooftop and the largest of them all, the Silver Moon Club, were among the clubs and honky-tonks established during the era.

In the early 1950s several of the clubs allowed organized gambling, which made them even more profitable. Even before the rock 'n' roll wave swept the country, stars such as famed jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong performed at the Silver Moon.

Many performers branched out to other venues along the route in Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas. Elvis even once sang at the high school in Bono.

Concrete work will start next week, and local officials hope to have it completed by September.

Building the plaza with an audio system will cost more than $70,000, Snapp said. Donations are funding the project, officials said.

The walk will be named Cavenuagh Park, to honor a local Chevrolet dealership that was instrumental in securing a $23,900 donation toward the walk, Snapp said.

In addition to the plaza, the committee has trademarked a unique U.S. 67 Rock-n-Roll Highway emblem that was also unveiled.

Local officials hope The Beatles monument and the Guitar Walk, which are within walking distance of one another, will spur tourism in the region.

"Walnut Ridge Arkansas is the only place in North America where Abbey Road meets the Rock-n-Roll Highway," Snapp said.


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun,