Billy Joe Shaver, Outlaw Singer and Songwriter, Dies at 81

By | October 29, 2020
Billy Joe Shaver, Outlaw Singer and Songwriter, Dies at 81

Billy Joe Shaver, Outlaw Singer and Songwriter, Dies at 81

Billy Joe Shaver, the Texas singer-songwriter whose trenchant, vivid compositions helped launch nation music’s outlaw motion within the Seventies, died on Wednesday in Waco, Texas. He was 81.

His loss of life, in a hospital, was confirmed by his buddy Connie Nelson, who stated he had lately had a stroke.

Mr. Shaver wrote songs for most of the main outlaw figures, together with Willie Nelson, Bobbie Naked and Kris Kristofferson. Elvis Presley and Johnny Money recorded his materials, and Bob Dylan, in a music written with the Grateful Useless lyricist Robert Hunter, sang admiringly of listening to his music. (“I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver/And I’m studying James Joyce.”)

Jerry Jeff Walker, one other rough-cut Texas singer-songwriter, died final week.

Mr. Shaver’s early status rested on his plain-spoken but poetic contributions to Waylon Jennings’s landmark 1973 album “Honky Tonk Heroes,” considered a quintessential expression of outlaw nation’s nonconformist spirit. “I’ve spent a lifetime making up my thoughts to be/Greater than the measure of what I believed others might see,” Mr. Jennings sang on his model of Mr. Shaver’s “Outdated 5 and Dimers Like Me.”

Mr. Shaver wrote or co-wrote all however one of many 10 songs on “Honky Tonk Heroes,” together with the title observe and “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me” — a tribute, its uncommon spelling of his first title however, to Mr. Nelson, his buddy and fellow outlaw.

“Black Rose,” a monument to self-recrimination and remorse, featured one in every of Mr. Shaver’s sometimes hard-hit but in addition self-aware narrators. “The satan made me do it the primary time/The second time I achieved it by myself,” Mr. Jennings sang ruefully over a lean however steadily chugging rhythm part.

Three of Mr. Shaver’s songs from “Honky Tonk Heroes” additionally appeared on “Outdated 5 and Dimers Like Me,” his musically unvarnished, autobiographical first solo album, produced by Mr. Kristofferson for the unbiased Monument label in 1973.

“Hell, I simply thought I’d point out, my grandma’s old-age pension/Is the rationale why I’m standing right here immediately,” Mr. Shaver sang in a raspy drawl on “I Been to Georgia on a Quick Practice.” Propelled by a headlong neo-rockabilly beat, the music revisited his hardscrabble childhood with dignity and satisfaction: “I acquired all my nation studying, milking and a-churning/Choosing cotton, elevating hell and baling hay.”

Songs like “Georgia on a Quick Practice” really feel nearly bigger than life, and but each that music and “You Ask Me To,” one other 1973 single, barely broke into the High 100 of the nation chart. Mr. Jennings’s model of “You Ask Me To,” in contrast, turned a High 10 nation hit.

Reflecting on this disparity in a 2014 interview with the NPR program “Morning Version,” Mr. Shaver admitted that he at all times believed he would by no means be as standard an artist as the celebs who made his songs well-known.

“The songs had been so large, they had been too large for me,” Mr. Shaver stated of the fabric he wrote throughout the heady early days of the outlaw motion. “I couldn’t probably get them throughout the best way Waylon might.”

Billy Joe Shaver was born on Aug. 16, 1939, in Corsicana, Texas, and grew up in Waco. His father, Virgil, deserted his mom, Victory (Watson) Shaver, earlier than their son was born. Mr. Shaver’s grandmother, Birdie Lee Watson, helped increase him; when he reached adolescence he and his older sister, Patricia, moved in with their mom and her new husband.

Mr. Shaver dropped out of college to work in his uncles’ cotton fields earlier than finishing eighth grade. He typically additionally accompanied his mom to the nightclub the place she tended bar, sparking an early curiosity in writing and taking part in music.

He joined the Navy at age 17 and, after finishing his service, was working odd jobs again in Texas when he met, and later married, Brenda Joyce Tindell. The couple had a son, John Edwin, often called Eddy, in 1962.

At round this time Mr. Shaver took a job in a sawmill, the place he misplaced the index and center fingers of his proper hand in a piece accident and needed to relearn how you can play the guitar. In 1968, after a number of extra years of scuffling, together with periodic visits to Nashville to pursue his fortunes as a songwriter, Mr. Shaver persuaded Mr. Naked to provide him a songwriting job at his publishing firm.

Success eluded him till 5 years later, when “Honky Tonk Heroes” elevated him to the ranks of unfettered, imagistic nation tunesmiths like Mr. Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Man Clark. His largest success as a songwriter within the post-outlaw period got here when the neo-traditionalist singer John Anderson had a High 10 nation hit in 1981 with “I’m Simply an Outdated Chunk of Coal (however I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Sometime).”

Mr. Shaver recorded steadily, however with little business success, from the Seventies on. He finally developed a following amongst followers of other nation music with albums like “Tramp on Your Road” (1993) and “Unshaven: Dwell at Smith’s Olde Bar” (1995). Billed merely underneath the title Shaver, each albums mirrored Eddy Shaver’s more and more distinguished function in his father’s band, with which he had been taking part in since he was a youngster.

In 1997 Mr. Shaver had a small half in “The Apostle,” a function movie written by, directed by and starring Robert Duvall.

Mr. Shaver’s spouse and mom each died of most cancers in 1999. His son died of a heroin overdose somewhat greater than a yr later.

Mr. Shaver confronted these losses, alongside along with his struggles with alcohol and medicines and his immersion within the Christian religion, in “Honky Tonk Hero,” a memoir, written with Brad Reagan, revealed in 2005. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Corridor of Fame in 2004, the identical yr “The Portrait of Billy Joe,” a documentary about his life and music directed by Luciana Pedraza, was launched.

In 2007, six years after struggling a coronary heart assault onstage, Mr. Shaver was concerned in an altercation outdoors a bar in Lorena, Texas, through which he shot a person within the face with a handgun. He pleaded self-defense and was acquitted three years later.

He’s survived by his sister, Patricia Rogers.

Mr. Shaver by no means acquired over the loss of life of his son practically 20 years in the past. Typically, after ending a music in live performance, he was heard to utter the phrases “I like you, Eddy” from the stage.

“His spirit’s nonetheless with me,” Mr. Shaver stated of his son in his 2014 NPR interview. “I do imagine that when individuals cross away, the goodness, the nice issues they did, it looks like they soften into your likeness. They soften into your likeness, and also you turn into a greater particular person for it.”

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