Have you ever heard the Orbison/Dees song “Best Friend”? Roy recorded it and Johnny Cash did a version as well. I was not aware of either of those the first time I heard the song. My introduction to “Best Friend” came at a little lakeside nightclub down here in the Ozarks where Bill and I were playing a gig one summer night several years back.
It was a real simple affair, just the two of us and two guitars. We had four sets to play and maybe two sets of stuff worked up so, we were pulling out a lot of unrehearsed material as the night rolled on. Bill sang “Best Friend” and, I have to tell you it was intense. It was just dramatic, people were hanging on every word.
Here is a bit from a piece I wrote a while back that you might find interesting. A little of the back story of the song “Best Friend” and a little insight in to the man in black.
He (Bill) first met Cash when pitching him a song. Bill was writing with Roy Orbison at Roy’s house. This would have been in the mid 60s. They were working on a song called “Best Friend”. Bill said something like; “This would be great for Johnny Cash, you ought to get it to him”. Roy said; “Well, he just lives across the street. Why don’t you take it over to him?” Bill, told me that he thought Roy was kind of testing him, sort of a dare. Bill was kind of the new guy in town and he didn’t know Johnny. And, if you don’t know somebody personally, especially the guy who is the biggest name in Nashville, it’s a pretty bold move to barge in on them with a song pitch. Now, Bill-he knows that but, he also has Roy there daring him to do it and, he can’t back down from a dare.
So, Bill grabbed the tape recorder and marched across the street. He said; “Man, I was scared walking across there”. He gets to the door and knocks, rings the bell and he’s waiting, waiting, just about to turn tail because he’s waited long enough to hold up his end of the deal and, the door cracks open. He heard this deep, gruff voice say: “What do you want”?
So, Bill, shaking in his shoes, says; “Well, me and Roy we was just over there writing and, we had this song…We thought you might want to hear it”. The door opened and Johnny Cash was standing there, with his hair uncombed, looking like he just woke up. He said, in a soft voice; “Well, come on in and play it for me then”. Bill said Cash was just as friendly as could be and he ended up cutting the song.
Bill told me that he ran into Johnny a few more times after that. They weren’t fishing buddies or anything but, he said he was always friendly and Bill always remembered how graciously Johnny had treated him when they met that first time.
During the 90s, Cash had a show in Branson for a short while and he had a house down across the line in Arkansas.
Bill was down at the Berryville Wal Mart one hot sumer day. He was standing out in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette, waiting on his wife who was shopping. So, he’s standing out in the hot sun and he hears a voice over his shoulder say: “Hey, Bill how you doing?” He turns around and it’s Johnny Cash. Bill told me; “Now, he hadn’t seen me in about 30 years but, he came up to me and started a friendly conversation like we had just seen each other the other day. Just polite and nice, like talking to an old friend out there in the Wal Mart parking lot”.
Cash changed some words around on his cut, most notably substituting “God’s the best friend that you’ll ever have” for “You’re the best friend that you’ll ever have” which, in my mind changes the meaning quite a bit. But, hey songs mean different things to different people.
And, that’s sort of the whole point here. I’ll tell you this, if you get a chance to hear Bill Dees live, request “Best Friend”. It’s different than the way Roy did it and different than the way Johnny did it but, even if you’ve never heard those versions, you won’t be disappointed.