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Billy Joe Shaver
Shaver in 2007
Shaver in 2007
Background information
Born(1939-08-16)August 16, 1939
Corsicana, Texas, U.S.[1]
DiedOctober 28, 2020(2020-10-28) (aged 81)
Waco, Texas, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, actor
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1973–2020
LabelsColumbia, Monument

Billy Joe Shaver (August 16, 1939 – October 28, 2020) was an American country singer. He was a prominent figure in progressive and outlaw country.


Shaver was born in Corsicana, Texas, and raised by his mother, Victory Watson Shaver. Until he was 12, he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in Corsicana, so 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.[4]

Shaver's mother remarried about the time that his grandmother died, so his older sister Patricia and he 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.[5]

Shaver joined the U.S. Navy on his 17th 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.[5]

Shaver took a job at a lumber mill to make ends meet. One day, his right (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.[5]

Shaver lost two fingers in a sawmill accident when he was young.[1]

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.[4] His work came to the attention of Waylon Jennings, who filled most of his album Honky Tonk Heroes with Shaver's songs after meeting in a travel trailer at Willie Nelson's 4 July picnic. 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.[4] 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 such as 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 on December 31, 2000. The listed cause of death was a heroin overdose, but there was suspicious circumstances surrounding the case as his face was bruised as if he was punched multiple times, and the daughter of an Austin Police Officer was at the residence at the time. 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.[6] 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, "Why Can't I 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 are only a stanza long and end with a sotto voce spoken-word portion. Season 1 of Mike Judge's Tales From The Tour Bus the 5th episode features the life of Billy Joe Shaver.

Most notable recordings

Shaver performing in 2015

Shaver's debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973), contained many songs noted for being performed by other artists that were written by him, 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" both songs written by Billy Joe for Jennings' 1973-album Honky Tonk Heroes.

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, Willie Nelson 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, John Anderson, and Marty Stuart.

On May 22, 2014, Rolling Stone premiered the single-duet with Willie Nelson "Hard To Be An Outlaw".[7] The album, Long in the Tooth was released on August 5, 2014, by Lightning Rod Records.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

Bob Dylan's book The Philosophy of Modern Song includes Willy The Wandering Gypsy as its 6th chapter.

In 2022 a tribute album of Shavers songs was released "Live Forever: A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver" which include tracks from; Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Bingham, Nikki Lane, Rodney Crowell, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Steve Earle, Nathaniel Rateliff, Amanda Shire, Margo Price, and others.

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, 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.[11]

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.'"[1]

After unsuccessfully attempting to surrender to police in Austin, who were unaware of the warrant, Shaver turned himself in at McLennan County Jail in Waco 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,[12][13] 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, with friends Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall in attendance for support.[14][15]

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 by Bloodshot Records.[16] Texas artist Tim Menchu, who grew up in Waco, wrote "Billy Joe Saviour", a song about Billy Joe and the shooting. Before it was recorded Tim told Billy Joe the lyrics behind the Granada Theater in Dallas, Billy Joe spit-laughed and said he loved it.


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.[17] 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 was shot at the Stevens Center at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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 was an avid Shaver fan, opening his book Based On A True Story with a quote from one of his songs, and praising 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. In addition, Shaver's song I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal, was chosen as the closing music for Norm Macdonald's posthumous Netflix comedy release of 2022 Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special.


Shaver died on October 28, 2020, from a stroke at the age of 81.[18]


Main article: Billy Joe Shaver discography


  1. ^ a b c Greene, David (August 5, 2014). "Billy Joe Shaver Writes Country Songs — And Lives Them, Too". NPR Morning Edition. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  2. ^ Hall, Kristen M. (October 28, 2020). "Outlaw country artist Billy Joe Shaver dead at 81". Associated Press. Retrieved July 25, 2023.
  3. ^ "Progressive country". AllMusic. Retrieved July 22, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "The Christian Life". March 23, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "". Archived from the original on December 30, 2006.
  6. ^ "Billy Joe Shaver". Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  7. ^ Hudak, Joseph (May 22, 2014). "Hear Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver's 'Outlaw' Duet – Premiere". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  8. ^ "Outlaw Legend Billy Joe Shaver to Release New Album". CBS Radio, Inc. May 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "Billy Joe Shaver's 41 Year Journey to the Top 20". Music Times. Music Times, LLC. August 22, 2014. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  10. ^ Liptak, Carena. "Everything You Need to Know About the 2019 ACM Honors".
  11. ^ "Affidavit" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 9, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  12. ^ "Arrest Warrant Issued For Billy Joe Shaver". April 3, 2007.
  13. ^ [1] Archived April 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Country Singer Shaver Acquitted in Texas Shooting New York Times (requires reg. to verify)
  15. ^ Country published April 14, 2010 by Bob Paxman Archived April 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Billy Joe Shaver Acquitted in Shooting
  16. ^ "Whitey Morgan and the 78's". Bloodshot Records. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  17. ^ Pedraza, Luciana (2004), Portrait of Billy Joe, Billy Joe Shaver, retrieved January 24, 2018
  18. ^ Hudak, Joseph; Doyle, Patrick (October 28, 2020). "Billy Joe Shaver, Seminal Outlaw Country Songwriter, Dead at 81". Retrieved October 28, 2020.
Awards FirstNone recognized before AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting 2002 Succeeded byJohn Prine