Billy Joe Shaver, the pioneer of country music who wrote some of the greatest songs in the genre, died Wednesday in Waco, Texas, after a stroke. He was 81. Connie Nelson, a friend of Shaver’s, confirmed his death Rolling stone.
Shaver’s classic career classics include “Honky Tonk Heroes”, “Georgia on a Fast Train”, “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” and “Live Forever”. He wrote ten of the 11 songs on Whelan Jennings’ 1973 OTC breakthrough. Honky Tonk Heroes; Chris Christopherson, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley recorded all his songs; and in 2010, Willie Nelson called him “the greatest living songwriter.”
Shaver lived outside the law that others only sang about. In 2007, he was accused of shooting a man in the face at a bar near his home in Waco. The trial attracted friends, including Nelson and actor Robert Duvall, in support of Shaver, who was eventually acquitted and continued to turn the ordeal into the song “Wacko From Waco.”
Born in Coriscana, Texas, on August 16, 1939, Shaver was raised by his mother, Victory, and would later leave the city to find work working in a hen in Waco. He often accompanies his mother to work at a local nightclub, where he exhibits country music. In the early sixties, Shaver moved to Houston and attended a club called Old Quarter, where he met Townes Van Zandt. They became drinking friends, and their friendship led him to Nashville. He won an apprenticeship for Harlan Howard and then a job at Bobby Barre.
“Billy Joe was already there before anyone talked about moving outside the law,” said Steve Earl, an early fan. “And I come from the generation that moved to Nashville because people started talking about the outlaw movement.”
But Shaver struggled in Nashville, where he was rejected by artists like Chet Atkins. He found a fan in Chris Christopherson who recorded his song “Good Christian Soldier” for his debut album. In 1971, Christopherson invited Shaver to play Willie Nelson’s Picnic, a collection of Dripping Springs in Austin. Shaver’s performance at the picnic was uneven, but then he attended a songwriting ring where he played “Willy the Wanderin ‘Gypsy and Me,” a rising ode to Nelson. Jennings liked what he heard. He said, “Do you have any more of these cowboy songs?” Shaver recalled Rolling stone. I said, “I filled them with a sack. “
Jennings promised to listen to these songs. But for weeks, the razor heard nothing. “I wasn’t used to that drunken talk when they came up and said they were going to do something and they weren’t doing it.” Shaver traveled to Nashville to look for Jennings in a recording studio. “I told him, ‘If you don’t listen to them, I’ll kick your ass here in front of God and in front of everyone,'” Shaver said. “And I was ready.”
Jennings listened to the songs, including the swampy “Honky Tonk Heroes”, which became the title track of his next album. “He just slapped his leg and said, ‘I know what I have to do,'” Shaver said. Jennings’ LP from 1973. Honky Tonk Heroes became one of the defining albums of the outlaw, but Shaver could not give himself a break as a major artist. After their debut album, The old five dimers, was released in 1973 by Monument, the label went out of business. The razor’s drug use escalated – one night in the mid-seventies, he drove his car through the glass of a car dealership. “I was welcome wherever I went because I wrote good music that entertained the artists,” Shaver said. “I just didn’t have the management and things like that. They said I was unmanageable. ”
In fact, Shaver’s life was littered with tragedy. When he was 21, he lost two fingers on his right hand in a sawmill accident (“I’m not a pointer,” he joked. “I can’t.”). He married one of his wives, Brenda, three times and lost her to cancer in 1999. At the same time, his mother (for whom he sang in “My Mother’s Name is a Victory”) died. Then on the morning of December 31, 2000, his son and creative partner Eddie Shaver, a fiery guitarist who remembered Stevie Ray Vaughan, was found dead from a heroin overdose.
A grieving razor performed the same night at a New Year’s concert with Nelson.
Willie assembled a group. My group just went crazy, everyone got angry and left crying and so on. But Willie called me … and said, “Billy, you have to get back on your horse,” Shaver said. “And I’m an old cowboy, I know what he’s talking about. That’s why I went up there. ”
Shaver said Rolling stone he considered revenge for his son’s death, until Nelson’s cool head prevailed. “I knew where.” [the drugs] came from – this drug dealer, I would have shot him and killed him instead of calling the police, “he said. “But Willie turned me down.” He said, “It’s best to just leave him alone.” And I did. I just left him alone. But you never forget something like that. “
The razor moved forward, releasing the last album he and Eddie had recorded, The earth is rolling, in April 2001 The child of freedom came in 2002 and in 2007 released what would be his last studio album in almost seven years, Brother of all.
Although they have never had as successful a solo career as his peers who cut his songs, Shaver’s solo recordings (and with Eddy as the duo Shaver) are essential to country music: “Georgia on a Fast Train”, “Tramp on Your Street, among them. His optimistic track “Live Forever” became his signature, with Shaver performing it on stage with outstretched arms. A devout Christian, he will fall dramatically on his surgically repaired knees during “You Can’t Defeat Jesus Christ,” a dishonest prayer in which Shaver calls his savior “some type of complex state.” He also preaches his faith in an equally exciting “Get Satan behind my back,” with John Anderson.
In 2014, Shaver released his latest album, Long in the tooth, in which the duet “It’s hard to be outlawed” with Willie Nelson. He confessed his commitment to writing songs throughout the interview with Rolling stone that same year, drinking Red Bulls, he kept it in a torn bag at his feet.
“Not everyone can be dedicated to that. First I’m a songwriter and then whatever I do, second … I enjoy the fun and I enjoy all aspects of what comes with it, but the song is like the cheapest psychiatrist I have, “said Shaver . “And I almost always need one.”
Shaver recorded and toured until his death. Only last January did he join Tanya Tucker on stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to perform “I’m Just an Old Piece of Coal.”
In 2004, Shaver was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in Nashville. But while he is mentioned in the Outlaw Hall of Fame exhibition, his own induction slips away – a flaw that continues to embarrass the razor.
“If you don’t want to put me there, that’s fine. But I just don’t understand it to tell you the truth, “he said. “I feel like part of the foundation and maybe even a cornerstone. I think I am so much. “
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