Billy Joe Shaver

Honky Tonk HeroesGypsy Boy
You Asked Me ToGypsy Boy
I'm Just An Old Chunk Of CoalI'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal...
The Devil Made Me Do It...Salt Of The Earth
Live ForeverVictory
Georgia On A Fast TrainUnshaven: Live At Smith's Olde Bar
I Don't Seem To Fit AnywhereThe Earth Rolls On
The Earth Rolls OnThe Earth Rolls On
FameBilly And The Kid
When I Get My WingsEverybody's Brother


Billy Joe Shaver playlist



Contributor: Keith Shackleton

Billy Joe Shaver was born on August 16th, 1939 in Corsicana, Texas. His abusive father Buddy beat his pregnant mother and left the family before Billy Joe was born, and he was brought up in his youth by his grandmother, which allowed his mother to work. For a while she ran a honky tonk called Green Gables, and young Billy Joe would occasionally have the run of the place, begging small change from soldiers from nearby Fort Hood. His schooling was, naturally, irregular. He joined the Navy at 17, but was discharged after fighting with an out of uniform officer. He married Brenda Tindell – they were divorced and married twice more – and in 1962, they had a son, John Edwin, known as Eddy.

An accident at a lumber yard robbed Billy Joe of the best part of the fingers of his right hand. He was right handed, so that was the end of general labour work, though he could still strum a guitar. To earn some much needed cash while working on his music, he tried out the rodeo circuit, where he broke his back. In 1966, trying to make the most of the burgeoning talent he had, he decided to hitch out to Los Angeles along Interstate 10. No cars heading west stopped for him. He crossed the road, and the first eastbound car took him all the way to Memphis. He eventually pitched up in Nashville, landing a song writing job at Bobby Bare’s publishing company for $50 a week.

Bare introduced Billy Joe to Waylon Jennings, who liked what he heard. An astonishing ten out of eleven songs on Jennings’ breakthrough outlaw country album Honky Tonk Heroes were Shaver originals. A fine start, but all too often, Billy Joe’s personal and professional life clashed – violence, drugs and alcohol impeding the momentum gained by the release of three rare albums in the 70s. He saw the light, turned to God, wrote still greater songs, and signed to Columbia in the 80s for a further three well-received albums, alas none of which sold in really substantial numbers but the patronage of country legends like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson kept the Shaver flame burning.

The 90s brought a partnership on stage with guitar-slinger son Eddy, and their blistering brand of honky tonk blues brought a good measure of recognition and acclaim until the darkness descended once more. In 1999, Billy Joe’s wife Brenda and mother Victory both died of cancer. Son Eddy died of a heroin overdose in 2000, aged 38. Billy Joe himself suffered a massive heart attack on stage in 2001, and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. By way of packing a little more drama into a life already full of it, in 2007, following a slight difference of opinion, he shot a man in the face outside a bar in Waco, claimed self-defense and was acquitted.

Billy Joe Shaver doesn’t just write and sing outlaw country tunes, he lives them, and he’s still rolling on well into his seventies. The early Columbia Recordings are ragged but right. The scorching live tracks on Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar give you a real sense of the power of the man in tandem with his son, one of the finest ever country-style electric guitarists.

However, his later records are where I think you’ll find the real soul of Shaver. If you’re a fan of Johnny Cash’s late period American Recordings you’ll find a great deal to like about Billy Joe’s The Earth Rolls On.

So what the hell are you waiting for? Play the damn songs, they tell the whole story.


Billy Joe Shaver (1939–2020)

Billy Joe Shaver official site

Billy Joe Shaver biography (Apple Music)

Keith Shackleton is still suspicious of albums over 40 minutes long. Follow him on Twitter @RiverboatCapt and read more of his musings on music at his website.

TopperPost #293

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jun 5, 2014

    Keith, thanks for this great list. Had only known Shaver before this through covers like John Anderson’s version of ‘Old Chunk Of Coal’ and Joe Ely’s great version of ‘Live Forever’ but will definitely check him out further now…

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