06/17/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
Writing a song about one of country's most famous couples, Heidi Newfield knew she might catch a lot of flak. "People would say, 'Oh throw their names in and you've got a hit,' " says the singer, who released "Johnny and June" as the first single off her debut solo album, What Am I Waiting For. "But it wasn't about dropping names. It was a total respect thing." Newfield, 38, had in fact become friends with the legendary Johnny and June Carter Cash after he recorded the song "Big River" with her former band Trick Pony in 2000. She even wound up vacationing with the couple at their Jamaica estate later that year. "You could see how much those two loved and adored each other," remembers Newfield. "I carried that with me and thought, 'What a wonderful thing to write about.' " When she finally sat down to write with songwriters Deanna Bryant and Stephony Smith, "We scrutinized every word to make sure it touched on the inspiration they gave as a couple but also could speak to the hearts of each and every one of us," she says. "They had very individual personalities but were like two souls meshed into one. That's why I wrote the line, 'When you're gone, I want to go too.' It just speaks to their destiny." How does she think the late couple, who died within four months of each other in 2003, might view the tribute? "Their son John Carter Cash said he thought his parents would be very honored and proud," she says. "That made me feel great."