Billy Don Burns is the real deal. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy who prefers to let his songs speak for themselves. After all, he’s been making music for more than fifty years and in that time, he’s seen both the ups and downs of the music business and has honestly expressed himself in a decidedly uncompromising way.
It’s little wonder then that his songs have been recorded by the best in the business - a list that includes Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Mel Tillis, and Sammy Kershaw, to name but a few. And now a new generation has come along and recorded his songs – artists like Cody Jinks, Colter Wall, Whitey Morgan and others.
“I make music because that’s all I’ve ever done,” Billy Don maintains. “It’s all I know. I write because the songs come out of me and I’m privileged to be able to give them life.
Billy Don’s new album, I’ve Seen A Lot of Highway, released on October 6 via Shooter Jennings’ Black Country Rock label, provides an apt summation of both the struggles and successes he’s seen over the course of his career. BDB and his guitar landed in Nashville in 1972. Within a few weeks Harlan Howard had signed him as a writer with Wilderness Music, where he met Lefty Frizzell, Tanya Tucker, Waylon and Tommy Jennings. He was accepted in that crowd with Billy Joe Shaver, Lee Clayton, Billy Ray Reynolds, Steve Young, etc. He scored his first major cut by Connie Smith on Columbia Records in 1974. Over the years Burns became recognized as one of the original outlaws and great writers of country music. His songs pretty much tell his life story.
BDB’s legacy looms larger today than ever, having spread his influence to an entirely new generation of singers. Several are featured guests on the new album including duets with Shooter Jennings on “Neon Circus” and Cody Jinks on the title track. Whey Jennings, Wes Shipp, and The Storey Boys are some of BDB’s new friends that he asked to be on the album which was recorded in Nashville, TN and Muscle Shoals, AL. The album was produced by Denny Knight of Nashville Music Group, Jerry Laseter, Billy Lawson and executive producer, Wendell Grigsby.
BDB wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album. This piece of art is dedicated to his old friend Mack Vickery.
“So much love went into this album,” Billy Don insists. “It shines through from the friends of mine that played on it. I certainly appreciate them all.”
BDB has cut several albums over the years in the United States and one in Germany, The Berlin Tapes. His first solo album, Ramblin Gypsy, recorded in 1982 was produced by his friend and mentor, Porter Wagoner, who gave Burns his first Grand Ole Opry appearance. In 1996 Hall of Fame songwriter Hank Cochran produced The Desperate Men project. This album made its way to number one on the Gavin Americana charts. It unseated Johnny Cash’s Unchained from the number one spot where Cash had been for fourteen weeks. The legendary Man in Black sent BDB a letter of congratulations. Burns said the letter from Cash was the biggest thing that ever happened to him in his 50-year career.
Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker and Hank Cochran all recorded with Billy Don on his album Heroes, Friends and Other Troubled Souls in 2005. Released in 2012, Aaron Rodgers produced Nights When I’m Sober (Portrait of a Honky Tonk Singer). In 2016 Shooter Jennings produced BDB’s album A Night in Room 8. Graveyard in Montgomery, produced by Aaron Rodgers was also released that same year.
Over the years, BDB has reaped praise and appreciation from his contemporaries. Billy Joe Shaver called him “A friend forever. Billy Don is wise beyond his years. A great writer. A great man. A leader in all walks of life. The best man to have on your side no matter how dangerous the situation”.
Burns says, “My life has been wonderful, it ain't been easy, but it has been wonderful. I met most of my heroes, and a bunch of them recorded my songs. And if I died tonight, I had a great life.”