Earl Burroughs, dancer and songwriter who earned fame with “Great Balls of Fire” and “Yakety Yak,” celebrated his 87th birthday last week with family and friends.
Burroughs says his only regret is that he did not patent his nickname, “Happy Feet,” during his tap dancing days in San Francisco.
“Oh my, I’d be one rich man right now,” he said with a wide smile.
Burroughs, who speaks German, French, Spanish and Italian, worked during his career as a songwriter for Nat King Cole, Ritchie Havens, Mae West, Tiny Tim, Sha Na Na, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, and Chubby Checker.
Born in New Orleans, he knew at an early age that he had a destiny.
“When I was born, even as a child I was an entertainer,” he said.
His grandmother Ella Butler, a full-blooded Indian, was responsible for the title of his number one hit.
“My grandmother would go around exclaiming “Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire,” Burroughs said.
“I made a lot of money writing silly songs! I wrote Fujiyama Mama after dating a Japanese Girl who had a terrible temper. I also wrote “Peek-a-Boo” and “Kiss and Twist” for Chubby Checkers and “Plain Gold Ring” for Nina Simone.”
Before discovering gold in song writing, Burroughs traveled all over the world singing and tap dancing. He performed at the same venue as Johnny Mathis at the Long Bar Showboat Club in San Francisco, the Sahara in Las Vegas, the Astor Club in London, Casino Del Arosa in Rome, the Mandarin in Hong Kong and the St. George’s Club in Australia.
While at the Baby Grand Club in Harlem with Nipsey Russell as master of ceremonies, Burroughs performed at the same venue as Billy Eckstein and the Nicholas Brother. He also performed at the Cotton Club.
Burroughs lived in Paris for three years and later moved to Berlin where he performed at the number one spot, the Eden Club on the Rhine.
He wrote “Yakety Yak” for the Coasters and is in the music Hall of Fame for “Great Balls of Fire,” which he wrote for Jerry Lee Lewis in 1956.
Burroughs is a painter who uses oils, watercolors and charcoal. He also wrote a play about Jimi Hendrix, played the lead role and performed in New York in the hit Broadway musical, “Bubbling Brown Sugar.”
Talent runs in the Burroughs family. His brother Bill was an artist; his other brother Eduardo could play any song on the piano and had never taken a lesson.
His grandson Lance McGee formed the Prescott Clowns in Oakland; and he recently wrote a song for his daughter Amelia Harris, a singer in Los Angeles.
After all the decades, he still continues to be an artist.
“I never retired,” he said. “I stopped performing because there was more money in song writing, and I’m still writing.”