Billy Joe Shaver has never been a household name, but
his songs became country standards during the '70s and his reputation among
musicians and critics hasn't diminished during the ensuing decades.
One of the best synopses of Shaver's upbringing is
his own song, "I Been to Georgia on a
Fast Train." When he sings, "my
grandma's old-age pension is the reason that I'm standing here today,"
he ain't kidding. The "good Christian
raising" and "eighth grade
education" -- not to mention being abandoned by his parents shortly
after being born, working on his uncles' farms instead of going to high
school, and losing part of his fingers during a job at a sawmill -- are all
part of his life story. "I got all my country learning," he sings, "picking
cotton, raising hell, and bailing hay."
After several trips between Texas and Tennessee, he appeared one day in 1968 in
office, where he convinced
to listen to him play.
Bare ended up giving him
a writing job and soon his songs began to see the light thanks to
Kris Kristofferson ("Good
Tom T. Hall ("Willie the
Wandering Gypsy and Me"),
Bare ("Ride Me Down
Easy"), and later,
the Allman Brothers
("Sweet Mama") and
Elvis Presley ("You Asked
Me To"). Shaver's real breakthrough, though, came in 1973 when
Waylon Jennings recorded
an album composed almost entirely of Shaver's songs,
Honky Tonk Heroes --
largely considered the first true "outlaw" album.
Shaver's own debut album,
Old Five and Dimers Like Me,
was produced by
in 1973. Along with the title track, it contained now-classic Shaver songs
"Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me" and the aforementioned "Georgia on a
Fast Train." In 1978
Johnny Cash recorded "I'm
Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)," a song
Shaver wrote just after he chose to give up drugs and booze and turned to
God for help.
All Music Guide lists 23 albums, from 1973’s
Old Five & Dimers Like Me through
2007’s Everybody’s Brother. Among his many classic songs are “I'm Just an
Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day),” “Honky Tonk
Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Live Forever,” “Tramp on Your Street,”
and “Try and Try Again.”
In 1999, Shaver was invited to perform at the
Grand Ole Opry.
In 2005, Billy Joe Shaver performed on
In 2006, he was inducted into the
Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.
He recently served as spiritual advisor to Texas independent gubernatorial candidate
Kinky Friedman and his
2007 album “Everybody’s Brother” was nominated for a GRAMMY. For his
efforts, the Americana Music Association awarded him their Lifetime
Achievement Award in Songwriting.
Shaver is truly one of the most respected living
figures in American music. Bob
Dylan, who rarely covers other writers, has often played Billy Joe‘s “Old
Five And Dimers Like Me” in concert. Johnny Cash called him “my
favorite songwriter.” The Washington Post noted, “when the country outlaws were collecting
their holy writings, Billy Joe Shaver was carving out Exodus.”