16 August 1939
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas, United States
28 October 2020 (aged 81)
Billy Joe Shaver (born in Corsicana, TX, on 16 August 1939; died 28 October 2020) was an American Texas country music singer and songwriter. Shaver's 1973 album 'Old Five and Dimers Like Me' is a classic in the outlaw country genre.
Shaver was raised by his mother, Victory Watson Shaver, his father Virgil having left the family before Shaver was born. Until he was 12, he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in Corsicana so that his mother could work in Waco. He sometimes accompanied his mother to her job at a local nightclub, where he began to be exposed to country music.
Shaver's mother remarried about the time that his grandmother died, so he and his older sister Patricia moved in with their mother and new stepfather. Shaver left school after the eighth grade to help his uncles pick cotton, but occasionally returned to school to play sports.
Shaver joined the U.S. Navy on his seventeenth birthday. Upon his discharge, he worked a series of dead-end jobs, including trying to be a rodeo cowboy. About this time, he met and married Brenda Joyce Tindell. They had one son, John Edwin, known as Eddy, who was born in 1962. The two divorced and remarried several times.
Shaver took a job at a lumber mill to make ends meet. One day his right hand (his dominant hand) became caught in the machinery, and he lost the better part of two fingers and contracted a serious infection. He eventually recovered, and taught himself to play the guitar without those missing fingers.
Shaver lost two fingers in a sawmill accident when he was young.
Shaver set out to hitchhike to Los Angeles, California. He could not get a ride west, so he went to the other side of the highway and headed east, accompanying a man who dropped him off just outside Memphis, Tennessee. The next ride brought him to Nashville, where he found a job as a songwriter for $50 per week. His work came to the attention of Waylon Jennings, who filled most of his album Honky Tonk Heroes with Shaver's songs. Other artists, including Elvis Presley and Kris Kristofferson, began to record Shaver's music. This led to his own record deal.
The first few recording companies he signed with soon folded. He was never able to gain widespread recognition as a singer, although he never stopped recording his own music. On his records, he has been accompanied by other major rock and country music musicians like Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith, Chuck Leavell and Dickey Betts (of the Allman Brothers), Charlie Daniels, Flaco Jiménez, and Al Kooper.
After losing his wife, Brenda, and his mother to cancer in 1999, Shaver lost his son and longtime guitarist Eddy, who died at age 38 of a heroin overdose on December 31, 2000. Folk country artist Todd Snider wrote and dedicated his song Waco Moon to Eddy. Shaver nearly died himself the following year when he had a heart attack on stage during an Independence Day show at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. After successful heart surgery, Shaver came back to release Freedom's Child in 2002.
In 1999, Shaver performed at the Grand Ole Opry. In November 2005, he performed on the CMT Outlaws 2005. In 2006, Shaver was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. He later served as spiritual advisor to Texas independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman. For his efforts, the Americana Music Convention awarded him their Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting. He currently lives in Waco, Texas.
Bob Dylan mentioned Shaver in his song "I Feel a Change Comin' On" (Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter) on the album, Together Through Life (2009) - "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver, And I'm reading James Joyce". Shaver is also the "hero" of the song, "Wish I Could Write Like Billy Joe" on the album "Stormy Love" by Bugs Henderson.
Shaver sang the themes to the Adult Swim Television show, Squidbillies. The opening themes, collectively called "Warrior Man", are only a stanza long and end with a sotto voce spoken word portion.
Shaver's debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973), contained many songs noted for being performed by other artists such as David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings. When I Get My Wings (1976) included "Aint No God In Mexico" (also a hit for Waylon Jennings). Gypsy Boy (1977) included "Honky Tonk Heroes" and "You Asked Me To".
Shaver is also remembered for his hit "Live Forever", co-written by his son Eddy, Robert Duvall performs it in the movie Crazy Heart and it is included in the soundtrack. The song was also performed by The Highwaymen and Joe Ely. Shaver also wrote numerous songs for artists such as Patty Loveless and Willie Nelson.
Shaver continued to release records throughout the 1980s and 1990s; the most notable was the critically acclaimed Tramp On Your Street, released in 1993, which prominently featured the guitar playing of Eddy Shaver.
Shaver's 2007 album country gospel style Everybody's Brother was Grammy-nominated. Many of the songs are duets with artists such as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Tanya Tucker. Musicians playing on the album included Randy Scruggs, Laura Cash and Marty Stuart.
On May 22, 2014, Rolling Stone premiered the single-duet with Willie Nelson "Hard To Be An Outlaw". The album, Long In The Tooth was released on August 5, 2014 by Lightning Rod Records. After a 41-year career, Long in the Tooth became Billy Joe Shaver's first album to chart in Billboard's Top Country Albums, entering the chart at 19. The album also entered the Billboard 200, peaking at 157.
Comedian Norm Macdonald, an avid Shaver fan, occasionally praised his songwriting on his podcast Norm Macdonald Live. In 2018, Shaver appeared as a guest on Macdonald's Netflix program Norm Macdonald Has a Show.
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