The Johnny Cash Letter by Billy Don Burns


In 1995, Hank Cochran wanted to produce an album on me. We recorded some sides. We decided to release an album together called Desperate Men: The Legend and The Outlaw.  We were recording a song that Mack Vickery and I wrote called “Outlaws At The Cross” one day at Hank’s studio on 17th Avenue. Bruce Channel opened the door, and said to me, “Hey Man! Heard you were recording, just wanted to stop and tell you to cut a hit, I’m a fan.”

Bruce Channel is one of the great Rock and Rollers of all time. When he was sixteen years old, he wrote, “Hey Baby I Want To Know If You’ll Be My Girl”. He and Delbert McClinton went into the studio, and recorded it. Of course, the intro was Delbert on the harmonica. In 1962, the record was #1 all over the world. Bruce and Delbert did a tour in England, and the Beatles were their opening act. At that time the Beatles were also doing “Hey Baby” in their show.  I have worked several shows with Bruce over the years. He is one of the nicest guys in the business, and still one of the greatest singers ever.

I said, “Bruce, come in and record with me.” We did “Outlaws At The Cross” together on the Desperate Men album. Red Lane, Mack Vickery,and Clinton Gregory are some of the others that sang on the CD with me and Hank. The great John Hartford who wrote, “Gentle On My Mind” heard our master, and wanted to release it on his label, Small Dog Barkin’, distributed by Rounder Records. We let John release it.

“Desperate Men” kept going up the Americana Charts. That chart does not have thousands of stations like main stream Country. At that time, I believe, there were 230 radio stations that made up the Americana Chart. However, it is such a cool chart. It had artists like Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Neal Young, and others. The cool people. Johnny Cash had been number one for fourteen weeks. Nothing was reaching the top to move him out. “Desperate Men” kept moving up until it was #2. The record company called me, and said, “We are going to #1, We are knocking Cash out of that position.” I said, “I don‘t want to knock Cash out of number one. To me that would be like blasphemy.” The promotion man said, “We’re knocking him out.”


I got on the phone, and started calling the radio stations, telling them to get off my record. You had to be #1 on all 230 stations to be #1 on the chart. Hank heard about what I was doing, and called, and said, “I will sue your ass if you stop our record.”
We went to #1, and Johnny went to #2. I guess he heard about me trying to stop our record, and he sent me this letter. I cried like a baby when I got it. It is on display at the Stone County Museum in Mountain View, Arkansas. That was my second time on the Opry, Bill Anderson introduced  “The Desperate Men.” R.I.P. Johnny, you were the greatest.”



 Billy Don Burns