We were sad to hear of the death of legendary Texas musician Billy Joe Shaver, who passed away this week at the age of 81. Shaver’s career found him delivering hits for Waylon Jennings, John Anderson, and numerous others. Though never as commercially successful as his friends, Shaver built a reputation as one of Texas’s best songwriters. Case in point: we’ve had trouble picking out one song to adequately represent him. So we’re selecting his version of a song that help put Jennings on the map.
Music career aside, Billy Joe was a character. A key member of the Outlaw Country movement,, he could be as wild as his cohorts. Yet Shaver possessed a deeply religious faith, and at heart was a loving and generous spirit. (“If you don’t love Jesus, you can go to Hell!” was a typically funny yet profound Shaverism.) I am fortunate to have seen him live on a number of occasions, and I will cherish the conversations I had with him.
Shaver’s life reads like a country song–abject poverty, hard living, substance abuse, unfathomable tragedy, and violence. Yet he persevered; after all, here was a fellow who decided to be a songwriter after losing two fingers in a work-related accident. Furthermore, he took great pride in his hand; he saluted the audience with it at every show. A man of wit and charm, he never met a stranger, and those who met him left feeling as if they’d reunited with a beloved uncle or buddy. I know I did.
After a show I worked, I hung out with him backstage. Someone mentioned his hand, and he made a hilarious quip. “When I get to Heaven, I don’t need to be reunited with them. I got along pretty damn well without ’em, just like my ex-wife,” he said with a smile. We will never forget the sly smile and twinkle in his eye when he said it.