Thursday, September 5, 2013

Billy Don Burns Feature Write Up In The Hearld Mail

Billy Don Burns in the center flanked by J.B. Beverley and Buck Thrailkill - photo by Lance Dawes

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"Singer-songwriter Billy Don Burns is a man whose name is synonymous with the country music “Outlaw” movement — but to only the truest of diehard fans.

Unlike his cohorts — Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the like — Burns’ career has mostly been known to those who first discovered him through his songwriting before listening to his distinctive velvety voice with gruff overtones.

But it seems at age 64, Burns is finally getting recognized for his work, as a younger generation is discovering the outlaws’ music for the first time.

Those who want to discover Burns’ music can do so at two gigs this weekend — Friday, Sept. 6, at The Unique Bar & Grill in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and Saturday night, Sept. 7, at Bentz Street Sports Bar in Frederick, Md.

Opening for him will be Hagerstown’s Joshua Morningstar, who Burns predicts will be in the business for a longtime because “he’s a hard worker, talented and a nice kid.”

Born in Arkansas, Burns said music for him started like it did for many country music singers.

“I started out in church like a lot of country boys did, and graduated to honky tonks,” Burns said while on the road from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Little Rock, Ark. “And never got out of it, you know. It’s been good to me really. Not easy but good.”

But music wouldn’t become a career until he was in the Army and was in a talent show in front of an audience of 3,000. One of the judges was Don Grady from “My Three Sons,” who presented him with the trophy.

“I was shocked that I won,” he said. “It was a big deal to me.”

He moved to California in 1970, about the time he decided to become serious about songwriting. A year later, Haggard published a couple of Burns’ songs. By the time he got his “first cut” by Connie Smith, “Be All Right in Arkansas” in 1973 for Columbia Records, Burns had moved to Nashville, Tenn.

But he didn’t feel like he made it until Willie Nelson cut one of his songs in 1991.

“That’s when I realized it was the right way to go,” he said.

Burns said the respect alone of having Nelson cut one of his songs, “(I Don’t Have a Reason) to Go to California Anymore,” was enough to catapult his career. The song appeared on Nelson’s last album for Sony Records, “Born for Trouble,” and was poorly marketed.

Burns said at the time he and his friend, Jerry Laseter, were seeing success in their songwriting careers. Laseter, though, had penned the No. 1 hit “Down on the Farm” for Tim McGraw.

Laseter had asked Burns one day to take him to the airport, with the deal that Burns keep Laseter’s brand-new Jaguar for the weekend — as long as Burns picked him up on Monday. Burns agreed.

But before he left, he said they had a exchange. Laseter wanted to know what it was like to have a Willie Nelson song. But Burns wanted to know what it was like to have a No. 1 song.

“‘Aw, it’s great,’” Burns remembers Laseter telling him. “‘It ain’t no Willie cut, though.’ Saying that a Willie cut will give you more respect than you had before.”

Although Burns has penned hundreds of songs, he never wrote a song for his buddy, the late Waylon Jennings.

“I never played Waylon my songs. When I used to hang around him, everybody was a fan of his. (Kris) Kristofferson, Harlan Howard, Jack Clement — they were these greats (songwriters) hanging around pitching their songs. I didn’t have the confidence in those days.”"

Billy Don Burns featured in the Hearld Mail from Hagerstown, MD