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Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver

American country music singer-songwriter
Billy Joe Shaver
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American country music singer-songwriter
Was Singer Songwriter Author Musician
From United States of America
Type Literature Music
Gender male
Birth 16 August 1939, Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas, USA
Death 28 October 2020, Waco, McLennan County, Texas, USA (aged 81 years)
Star sign Leo
Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting 2002
Country music
Acoustic guitar
The details


Billy Joe Shaver (August 16, 1939 – October 28, 2020) was an American Texas country music singer and songwriter.


Shaver was born in Corsicana, Texas and raised by his mother, Victory Watson Shaver. His father Virgil left the family before Billy Joe was born. Until he was 12, he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in Corsicana so that his mother could work in Waco. He sometimes accompanied his mother to her job at a local nightclub, where he began to be exposed to country music.

Shaver's mother remarried about the time that his grandmother died, so he and his older sister Patricia moved in with their mother and new stepfather. Shaver left school after the eighth grade to help his uncles pick cotton, but occasionally returned to school to play sports.

Shaver joined the U.S. Navy on his seventeenth birthday. Upon his discharge, he worked a series of dead-end jobs, including trying to be a rodeo cowboy. About this time, he met and married Brenda Joyce Tindell. They had one son, John Edwin, known as Eddy, who was born in 1962. The two divorced and remarried several times.

Shaver took a job at a lumber mill to make ends meet. One day his right hand (his dominant hand) became caught in the machinery, and he lost the better part of two fingers and contracted a serious infection. He eventually recovered, and taught himself to play the guitar without those missing fingers.

Shaver lost two fingers in a sawmill accident when he was young.

Shaver set out to hitchhike to Los Angeles, California. He could not get a ride west, so he went to the other side of the highway and headed east, accompanying a man who dropped him off just outside Memphis, Tennessee. The next ride brought him to Nashville, where he found a job as a songwriter for $50 per week. His work came to the attention of Waylon Jennings, who filled most of his album Honky Tonk Heroes with Shaver's songs. Other artists, including Elvis Presley and Kris Kristofferson, began to record Shaver's music. This led to him getting his own record deal.

The first few recording companies he signed with soon folded. He was never able to gain widespread recognition as a singer, although he never stopped recording his own music. On his records, he has been accompanied by other major rock and country music musicians like Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith, Chuck Leavell and Dickey Betts (of the Allman Brothers), Charlie Daniels, Flaco Jiménez, and Al Kooper.

After losing his wife, Brenda, and his mother to cancer in 1999, Shaver lost his son and longtime guitarist Eddy, who died at age 38 of a heroin overdose on December 31, 2000. Folk country artist Todd Snider wrote and dedicated his song "Waco Moon" to Eddy. Shaver nearly died himself the following year when he had a heart attack on stage during an Independence Day show at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. After successful heart surgery, Shaver came back to release Freedom's Child in 2002.

In 1999, Shaver performed at the Grand Ole Opry. In November 2005, he performed on the CMT Outlaws 2005. In 2006, Shaver was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. He later served as spiritual advisor to Texas independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman. For his efforts, the Americana Music Convention awarded him their Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting. He lived in Waco, Texas.

Bob Dylan mentioned Shaver in his song "I Feel a Change Comin' On" (Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter) on the album, Together Through Life (2009) – "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver, And I'm reading James Joyce". Shaver is also the "hero" of the song, "Wish I Could Write Like Billy Joe" on the album "Stormy Love" by Bugs Henderson.

Shaver's voice is heard on the themes to the Adult Swim television show, Squidbillies. The opening themes, collectively called "Warrior Man" are only a stanza long and end with a sotto voce spoken word portion.

Most notable records

Shaver's debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973) contained many songs noted for being performed by other artists such as David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings. When I Get My Wings (1976) included "Ain’t No God In Mexico" (also a hit for Waylon Jennings). Gypsy Boy (1977) included "Honky Tonk Heroes" and "You Asked Me To".

Shaver is also known for his hit "Live Forever", co-written by his son Eddy; Robert Duvall performs it in the movie Crazy Heart and it is included in the soundtrack. The song was also performed by The Highwaymen and Joe Ely. Shaver also wrote numerous songs for artists such as Patty Loveless and Willie Nelson.

Shaver continued to release records throughout the 1980s and 1990s; the most notable was the critically acclaimed Tramp On Your Street, released in 1993, which prominently featured the guitar playing of Eddy Shaver.

Shaver's 2007 album country gospel style Everybody's Brother was Grammy-nominated. Many of the songs are duets with artists such as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Tanya Tucker. Musicians playing on the album included Randy Scruggs, Laura Cash, and Marty Stuart.

On May 22, 2014, Rolling Stone premiered the single-duet with Willie Nelson "Hard To Be An Outlaw". The album, Long in the Tooth was released on August 5, 2014 by Lightning Rod Records. After a 41-year career, Long in the Tooth became Billy Joe Shaver's first album to chart in Billboard's Top Country Albums, entering the chart at 19. The album also entered the Billboard 200, peaking at 157.

In 2019, Shaver received the Poet's Award from the Academy of Country Music to honor his achievements in songwriting.

Shooting in Lorena, Texas

On April 2, 2007, police in Lorena, Texas, issued two arrest warrants for Shaver on charges of aggravated assault and possessing a firearm in a prohibited place. This was in connection with an incident outside a tavern, Papa Joe's Texas Saloon, in Lorena two days prior, on March 31, in which Shaver shot a man, Billy Bryant Coker, in the face with a handgun. Coker's injuries, however, were not reported as life-threatening.

Witnesses interviewed by police report hearing Shaver say "where do you want it?" and then, after the shot was fired, "Tell me you are sorry" and "No one tells me to shut up." Coker told police the attack was unprovoked. Shaver's attorney declared that Shaver had shot Coker "in self-defense" after Coker threatened Shaver with a knife.

In an August 2014 NPR interview, Shaver said that he shot Coker because he was "Such a bully" and that "I hit him right between a mother and a fucker. That was the end of that. He dropped his weapons and said, 'I'm sorry.' And I said, 'Well, if you had said that inside, there would have been no problem.'"

After unsuccessfully attempting to surrender to police in Austin, Texas, who were unaware of the warrant, Shaver turned himself in at McLennan County Jail in Waco, Texas on Tuesday, April 3. He was released after an hour on $50,000 bond and gave his scheduled performance at Waterloo Records in Austin that evening, where he reportedly told fans, "Don't forget to pray for me, and tell your kids to pray for me, too."

He was acquitted in a Waco court on April 9, 2010 after testifying that he acted in self-defense.

The Texas-based country musician, Dale Watson, wrote a song about the incident titled "Where Do You Want It?". The song has been recorded by Whitey Morgan and the 78's and appears on their self-titled second album, released via Bloodshot Records.


In 1996, Shaver took a part in the film The Apostle playing opposite Robert Duvall. He had additional speaking roles in the Duvall film Secondhand Lions (2003) and in The Wendell Baker Story (2005).

In 2004, a documentary of his life, A Portrait of Billy Joe, was released. The documentary was directed by Luciana Pedraza. In 2006, a documentary of a concert, Billy Joe Shaver – North Carolina 2006 was released on YouTube along with a limited number of DVDs. The documentary was directed by Guy Schwartz, whom Eddie Shaver listed as a musical mentor and shot at The Stevens Center at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC.

In 2008, he co-starred with Bill Engvall and Billy Ray Cyrus in the made-for-TV USA Network Movie, Bait Shop. In 2016, he had a cameo in the TV series Still the King, also alongside Cyrus.

Comedian Norm Macdonald is an avid Shaver fan and has occasionally praised his songwriting on his podcast Norm Macdonald Live. In 2018, Shaver appeared as a guest on Macdonald's Netflix program Norm Macdonald Has a Show.


Shaver died on October 28, 2020, from a massive stroke at the age of 81 in Waco, Texas.


Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Label
US Country US US Heat US Indie US Christ
1973 Old Five and Dimers Like Me Monument
1976 When I Get My Wings Capricorn
1977 Gypsy Boy
1981 I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal
(But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)
1982 Billy Joe Shaver
1987 Salt of the Earth
1993 Tramp on Your Street Volcano
1996 Highway of Life Justice
1998 Victory New West
1999 Electric Shaver
2001 The Earth Rolls On
2002 Freedom's Child Compadre
2003 Try and Try Again
2004 Billy and the Kid
2005 The Real Deal
2007 Everybody's Brother 50
2014 Long in the Tooth 19 157 4 23 Lightning Rod
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums

Year Album Label
1994 Honky Tonk Heroes Bear Family
1995 Restless Wind: The Legendary
Billy Joe Shaver 1973–1987
Razor & Tie
2007 Greatest Hits Compadre
2013 The Complete Columbia Recordings Real Gone Music

Live albums

Year Album Label
1995 Unshaven: Live at Smith's Olde Bar Volcano
2003 Live from Down Under Sphincter
2005 A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver: Live Compadre
2007 Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird Sugar Hill
2012 Live at Billy Bob's Texas Smith Music Group
Live from Austin, TX: Austin City Limits New West


Year Title Peak chart
US Country CAN Country
1970 "Chicken on the Ground" N/A
1973 "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" 88 Old Five and Dimers Like Me
"Black Rose"
1974 "Lately I Been Leanin' T'ward the Blues" N/A
1976 "America You Are My Woman" When I Get My Wings
1977 "You Asked Me To" 80 Gypsy Boy
1978 "Billy B Damned"
1981 "Blue Texas Waltz" I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal
(But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)
"Ragged Old Truck"
"When the Word Was Thunderbird"
1982 "Ride Me Down Easy" Billy Joe Shaver
"Amtrak (And Ain't Coming Back)"
"One Moving Part"
1993 "The Hottest Thing in Town" Tramp on Your Street
"Live Forever" 96
1994 "Georgia On a Fast Train"
1996 "Comin' On Strong" Highway of Life
2002 "Freedom's Child" Freedom's Child
2007 "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" Everybody's Brother
2011 "Wacko from Waco" Live at Billy Bob's Texas
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Music videos

Year Video Director
1993 "The Hottest Thing in Town" Steve Mims
"Live Forever" Steve Boyle
1994 "Georgia On a Fast Train" Chris Rogers
1996 "Comin' On Strong"
2002 "Freedom's Child"
2005 "Live Forever" Rick Schroder
2007 "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" The Brads
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 29 Oct 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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