Billy Don Burns: Playing Hank Sr At Opryland

Billy Don Burns Gladiator With A Guitar Vol II – Playing Hank Sr. At Opryland


When I played Hank Williams, Sr at Opryland, I did my first audition for the part at WSM Radio Station in Nashville. I did my second audition at MTSU Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My third audition was at Vanderbilt University Nashville. Over 500 auditioned for the part. It was most certainly one of the highlights of my music career when they informed me that I would be playing Hank. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash were like the first two artists that I remember as a kid.

The show was called My Country. It was like the Hall of Fame of country music. I had two rhinestone and sequined Western-cut suits and hat in Wardrobe for the part. Bill West,  ex-husband to Dottie West and father of Shellie, was the steel guitar player in the band. My cue to come on stage was when Bill kicked of “Your Cheating Heart” on his steel.

Opryland was a great place for all kinds of music. In my mind, I had the number one part in all of the park -I was Hank Williams. We did five shows a day for five days a week then on Saturday we did six shows.

The outdoor theater where we did the show seated 2,500 and was full every show. It was great. All of the Grand Ole Opry members came to the show at least once. Some, like Roy Acuff, were at many of our shows. The stars were Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Tex Ritter, Red Foley, Roy Acuff, Earnest Tubb, Loretta Lynn. Then after the last Hall of Fame member did their thing, we would change into costumes like the rest of the cast that was made up of dancers and harmony singers. We all had to take a few weeks of choreography and learn a few steps. It looked like we all could dance but the two professional dancers in the cast really did most of the dancing.

We all sang two songs a piece when we came back out as regular cast. My two songs were Porter Wagoner’s “Carol County Accident” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”.

It was great to do the show for one season. At the end of the season, I knew it was time for me to move on. I had played Hank and now it was time to try and find out who I was. I met many country music stars and all kinds of people when I played Hank but none had the effect on me that his two wives did. Audrey and Billy Jean were the only two women Hank married. Audrey came back stage and I will always remember how eloquent she was dressed. Yeah,  meeting those two ladies was a big deal to me. If you have heard my song “I Was There” from my Train Called Lonesome  album, then you know that I mention Hank’s two wives in that song.

Here’s a clip from Ralph Emery’s show on TNN where a young Billy Don Burns appears singing his song, “Money Talks” and gives a “Hank” rendition from his show at Opryland as well as a duet with Lorrie Morgan:

Thank you Outlaw Magazine for asking me to give my account of what it was like to play Hank Williams at Opryland USA in my new Blog for Outlaw Magazine.

~ Billy Don Burns



Read Billy Don Burns Gladiator With A Guitar Vol i: Waylon Jennings HERE.

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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