Billy Don Burns: Gladiator With A Guitar Vol I – Waylon

I liked Waylon Jennings the first time I heard him on the radio. It was about 1966, I was still in high school. The song was “Silver Ribbons” from his  RCA Nashville Rebel album. I bought the album and learned two songs off of it, “Silver Ribbons” and “Nashville Bum”.

The first time I met Waylon was at the old Holliday Inn at 19th and West End in Nashville in 1972. He was with guitar player Jerry Shook. I was a fan and introduced myself to him. He was nice to me. Harlan Howard (“Heartaches By The Number”, “I Fall To Pieces” & a zillion others) signed me as a writer that same year. If Waylon was in town he hung out there. Harlan’s company, Wilderness Music, was in one of the little houses on 17th Ave. Conway Twitty had the office upstairs rented for his company, Hello Darlin’ Music. Paul Tannen also had an office upstairs and had a writer by the name of Steve Young (“Seven Bridges Road, Lonesome On’ry and Mean”).

I always got to Wilderness early. One morning, no one had come into the office but me. Waylon came in, he had been on the road. He was driving a blue 1968 Chevelle with Ohio license plates. He was limping when he came through the door. He said “Hey hoss, could you help me get my boot off?”  He had an ingrown nail on his big toe. I helped him get the boot off and it looked pretty bad. I got a first aid kit from the bath room and we worked on his toe some and I doctored him up. He put his boot back on and asked me if I wanted to go with him to the old Burger Boy on 19th and Broadway. That was another one of his hangouts in those days. The Burger Boy was open 24 hours a day. They had a back room with pin ball machines, Waylon liked to play. I went there with him and he played for hours. That was the most time that I ever spent with Waylon by myself, it was just me and him.

Billy Don & Waylon outside the studio

Here’s an old shot from around 1975. Waylon & Tompall Glaser (Glaser was featured on Wanted: The Outlaws album) were in the studio together.  Leonard Sipes aka Tommy Collins and I were hanging out, he wanted to know where Waylon was.  Tommy’s in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Merle Haggard wrote the song “Leonard” about him. Anyway,   we ran Waylon down at American Studios. In fact, this was the infamous studio mentioned in Waylon: An Autobiography that was raided by the DEA Agents while Waylon was recording and Richie Albright got rid of the ‘evidence’. Waylon later wrote a song about the whole incident “Don’t  You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”…We were wrapped up in our music, that’s why we never saw, The cars pull up, the boys get out and the room fill up with law. They came pounding through the back door in the middle of the song, They got me for possession of something that was gone, long gone… Tommy took this picture.

Read Waylon’s Autobiography if you haven’t.

A few years ago, I was driving back from Johnny Paycheck’s funeral. Mack Vickery and Earl Clark were with me. They were both good friends with Waylon. Mack had written “Cedar Town Georgia” and “The Eagle” for Waylon. Earl used to be his bus driver. I was trying to get my mind off of Johnny dying. Somebody said something about “we’ve lost Waylon and Paycheck, both.” I said,  “Let’s write a song about Waylon.” We drove back to an office we had rented at the Spence Manor on 16th Avenue. The three of us wrote “When Waylon Came To Nashville” but it wasn’t quite right. When Mack died, I got the song back out and rewrote the chorus. I played it for Earl and he liked it. Five years ago, I was working some shows with Brigitte London and Waylon’s band. We went into a studio somewhere in Mississippi and recorded it.

He flew higher than the eagle they were ridin’ on

He took a band of outlaws across the land to sing the world a song

Running up and down the highway, he was breakin’ all the rules

When Waylon came to Nashville, he made Outlaw Music cool

“When Waylon Came To Nashville”:


~ Billy Don Burns

Billy Don Burns is a true Country Music Warrior. He wears his battle scars with honor, depicting the stories of his life in his songs with brutal and beautiful honesty. He’s respected far and wide for his long career in songwriting and performing, and he’s still out there.  He’s traveled the world playing his music. He has played mostly clubs and smoke filled honky tonks and he has played thousands of them. He ‘s performed on the Grand Ole Opry. He unseated his hero, Country Music Icon Johnny Cash, who had been number one for fourteen weeks on the Gavin Americana charts and received a letter of congratulations from the Man in Black when he did. His songs have been record by many artists, including Willie Nelson, Connie Smith, Johnny Paycheck and Sammy Kershaw.  His new album is now available, Nights When I’m Sober: Portrait of a Honky Tonk Singer

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