“If I was to quit, I’d probably die. I’m still drivin’ a fifteen–passenger van and pullin’ a trailer. But Jesus rode up on a jackass, so it ain’t no big deal. Just go in there, kick ass, and leave.” Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver still lives his life on the road. He was born today in 1939.
Country singer songwriter Billy Joe Shaver was born in Corsicana, Texas, USA. Of Blackfoot Indian (and Cherokee) parentage with some French blood, Billy Joe came to music following a stint in the US Navy and various jobs including a rodeo rider and working in a lumber mill.
The latter however would handicap his musical ambitions, when an accident with a saw ended with him losing two fingers. Undaunted, Shaver re-taught himself to play guitarand hitch-hiked to Nashville in the early 1970s, finding employment as a songwriter.
His reputation there grew, boosted by Waylon Jennings releasing an album of Shaver songs (1973′s “Honky Tonk Heroes”) and along with Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter he’s credited with popularising the “outlaw country” genre.
Kristofferson produced Billy Joe’s debut album “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” (including his trademark song, “Georgia on a Fast Train.” the title track meanwhile later turned up in Bob Dylans’ live shows), while Cash would cover Shaver songs including “Old Chunk of Coal” and “If I Give My Soul”.
Billy Joe’s son Eddy played guitar in his father’s band for many years, but tragically died at the age of 38 in 2000, following a drugs overdose. Undaunted however, Shaver continued to write record and perform, telling an interviewer that:
“I Got fingers missin’. Had a heart attack. Four-way bypass. I got a plate in my neck. My throat’s been cut a couple times. I mean, shit, man. I’m so beat up, I can’t do much of nuthin’ else.”
April 2010 saw born-again Christian Billy Joe on trial after shooting a man who threatened him with a knife outside a saloon in nearby Lorena, some three years earlier. With celebrity friends including Willie Nelson and Rober Duvall looking on from the public gallery, a not guilty verdict was delivered by the jury, who accepted that Shaver acted in self-defence and was in lawful possession of a pistol because of his status as a deputy sheriff.
Shaver played a live show in Houston barely five hours later and later co-wrote and duetted with Nelson on the song, “Wacko from Waco”. No prizes for guessing what that’s about, or what Shaver’s pal Dale Watson had in mind when he penned, “Where Do You Want it?”
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And here’s some footage of Shaver in action: