Billy Don Burns: A Portrait Of A Honky Tonk Singer

Photo by Heather Scheer Moore

There are all kinds of artists, but very few true Song Warriors.  What does it take to be a Song Warrior?  Well, it ain’t no picnic. It’s a long, hard road. You have to give every bit of yourself to the muse, and live it and breathe it until you’ve squeezed out the last breath of inspiration and gut wrenching soul. After that, you will need to find one more thing to keep you going, one more thing to write about, one more lover to love and one more song to sing. And do it again and again. That is what resonates through Billy Don’s voice and the kind of truth that comes out in his songwriting has to be lived. And no one has lived it the way Billy Don Burns has.

He’s been doing it from the time he showed up at as a youngster in Merle Haggard’s office in Bakersfield, CA and Merle was so taken with him that he put him on television that very day, to the partnership publishing company he formed with Harlan Howard. Then, of course, there was the intense project recording Paycheck in prison, as well as hanging with Willie, Waylon and the boys and you-name-it, traveling across this country on a song and a prayer. Billy Don Burns has lived it and done it all. He’s had his songs cut by many country artists including Connie Smith and Willie Nelson. Through drugs, hardships and music business bullshit, he has not only survived, but every nuance in his voice manages to tell his tales with deep conviction and fluid emotion and his writing continues to be exceptional.  He never once compromised himself, and while no one would dare to come up against him or mess with someone he loves (or suffer the consequences), there is not a truer heart or more loyal comrade in the business.  He understands all of it. He is there for the music and for the transcendence music brings.

The thing we loved most about the late, great Hank Williams (besides that voice), was the way he made you feel what he was feeling. He cut right inside of you.  That’s the same ingredient that exists in every Billy Don Burns song. Where Hank wails, Billy Don laments and then perseveres.

On Billy Don’s new Rusty Knuckles Records release, Nights When I’m Sober: Portrait of a Honky Tonk Singer, the realities of life are harsh but poetic, painful and yet, beautiful. The production by Aaron Rodgers is, well, perfect. Sparse and tasteful arrangements that allow the songs to breathe fully in their full expression. A lot of the lyrical content and vocal delivery in today’s country music is masked by mass instrumentation and vocal cover-ups. Not here. The songs get exactly what they deserve in order to preserve the integrity of feeling and the potency of the lyrics. From kicking it in “That’s Alright,” a honky tonk rouser that shows he keeps his humor amidst life’s troubles, to tearing the heart strings in “When Lonesome Comes Around,” each arrangement accents rather than distracts. And, by the way, “When Lonesome Comes Around” is in the league of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”  Yes, it is.

Each song tells a different part of Billy Don’s story.  “It Would Kill Mama” was written after a friend asked Billy Don (through a bathroom door) what would his mama would think about  what he was doing in there (drugs). See, Billy Don doesn’t hide anything. Anything. He bares it all and you love him for it. He is one of the most unique and gifted artists walking this planet. I don’t give a shit who is on the charts right now, blah blah blah.  If it were a balanced world, then Billy Don would be number one right now. But it is not a balanced world. And today’s music machine is one big mess. You have to take the beauty where you can get it. And beauty lies in the art. True Art is what matters. And True Art is what Billy Don gives you. Listen to “Honky Tonk Singer” and you’ll hear the lonely cry of a worn country heart.  Through this album, he’ll take you on a journey battling the road, through the drugs and the drink… and wrestling with that internal desire that needs the music, searches for truth and longs for deliverance as well as distinction from the sheep that roam this land.

Want to know the Artist’s struggle? “Is He The Writer” will give it you, no holds barred…

He’s hold up one night as usual, alone

he’d been drinkin’ and druggin’ and writing his wrongs

there’s no more to lose, nothing to fear

takes out his knife and cuts off his ear

Poets like Dylan live in his brain

is he a writer or is he insane

he dresses in black and he goes it alone

is the writer or is he a song

He’ll give you some uptempo ass-kickin’ tunes, like “Some Were Born To Ride” and spook you out along “Diablo’s Highway.”   He will start the bleeding in your heart with “Stranger” and take you down that long, lost highway where you’ll have a complete “Heart Breakdown.” Man, what a song. There’s also the fun “Aaron Rodgers and Me” that tells how the producer/musician and Billy Don got together to make this album. Love it.  All the tracks are prime example of hardcore country music.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check it out for yourself and get a copy right HERE. 

I’m honored to call Mr. Billy Don Burns my friend and I am honored to have him as a guest on my radio show. On Friday, July 20th, you can hear my interview with him on Outlaw Magazine’s Audio Special right here on Outlaw Magazine as well as on my radio show (The Highwaywoman Radio Show) all of next week.

There are all kinds of artists, but there is only one Billy Don Burns.

~ Brigitte London

***Billy Don Burns is Outlaw Magazine’s Artist of the Month. 

Brigitte London, otherwise known as The Highwaywoman, is a Singer/Songwriter out of Austin, Texas. She’s a poet, dreamer, crusader. She is also the host of internationally syndicated radio show, The Highwaywoman Radio Show)

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