Texas Monthly Talks

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver


Notes from Evan Smith

"Billy Joe Shaver is a singer, songwriter, and actor, called "the last great cowboy poet" by No Depression magazine. Shaver has led the sort of life that could only be captured in country music. He was born in 1939 in Corsicana, Texas. His father left before he was born, and his mother went to find work in Waco, leaving Shaver and his sister Patricia to be raised by their grandmother. Though his family was too poor to afford musical instruments, as a child, Shaver started to sing and write songs. On the urging of a high school friend, Shaver enlisted in the Navy, but was discharged after getting in a fight with an out-of-uniform officer. He later took a job at a sawmill, where an accident caused him to lose most of the fingers on his right hand. In 1966, Shaver came to Nashville and eventually got a job writing songs for Bobby Bare's publishing company. Shaver became known as a "songwriter's songwriter," writing songs that were performed by greats such as Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and Kris Kristofferson. He also released three albums on his own during the 1970s -- Old Five And Dimers Like Me, When I Get My Wings, and Gypsy Boy. In the 1980s, Shaver signed with Columbia and recorded three more albums -- I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal, Billy Joe Shaver, and Salt of the Earth. He began collaborating with his guitarist son Eddy in the 1990s. The pair released six albums -- Tramp On Your Street, Shaver Live At Smith's Olde Bar, Highway of Life, Victory, Electric Shaver, and The Earth Rolls On. However, the collaboration tragically ended on December 31, 2000, when Eddy suffered a fatal drug overdose at the age of 38, just one year after the deaths of Shaver's mother and wife from cancer. In 2001, Shaver suffered a heart attack on stage at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. Despite family tragedy and problems with his own health, Shaver continued making music. In 2002, he released Freedom's Child, and in 2004, working with unfinished tapes recorded in 1996 by Eddy Shaver, he created Billy and the Kid. In recent years, Shaver has acted in several films, including The Apostle, Secondhand Lions, and The Wendell Baker Story. In 2003, Luciana Pedraza completed the film Portrait of Billy Joe, a documentary about Shaver's life. In 2005, The University of Texas Press published Shaver's autobiography, Honky Tonk Hero, written with Brad Reagan." - Evan Smith, Texas Monthly Talks, Broadcast 3.31.05