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Wire from the Bunker: Meet Billie Joe Shaver

Now that THAT is resolved — and remember, folks, that over here in the C&W ghetto of Phawker, we have absolutely no intention of reaching across the aisle to racist fascists — I would be remiss not to acknowledge the recent passing of Billy Joe Shaver, one of finest songwriters to ever emerge from the Lone Star state. And that’s saying something as that list includes late great Texans Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark as well as the still very much alive Butch Hancock and Willie Nelson, the latter of whom declared that Billy Joe was, indeed, the very best of them all when it came to writing. Shaver sure led a colorful life: Raised by his grandmother, as a child, he walked 10 miles barefoot to see Hank Williams Sr. who awarded the boy by looking directly into his eyes as he sang. Billy Joe lost several fingers in a saw mill accident as a young man but that didn’t stop him from moving to Nashville to take his chances as a songwriter and performer. He famously threatened to kick Waylon Jenning’s ass if his fellow Texan didn’t have a listen to his songs. Jennings was, in the event, suitably impressed and ended up populating his now legendary Honky Tonk Heroes record almost exclusively with Shaver tunes. Billy Joe endured some rough sledding in the 70s and into the 80s, mostly involving his massive drug and booze intake, but pulled out of it when he accepted Christ, who, according to Shaver, appeared on the edge of his bed, offering mercy and redemption after one particularly savage bender. Shaver later hooked up with his preternaturally gifted guitar-slinging son, Eddy, and would release some of his finest music in the 90s, including arguably his best LP, Tramp on Your Street. Tragically, Eddy died of a heroin overdose on NYE 2000. Earlier that year Eddy’s mother, who Billy Joe had married no less than three times (outdoing even the king of multiple marriages, Steve Earle, in that regard), had passed. But Shaver, in the face of great personal tragedy, pressed on, sometimes violently. He shot a man in the face outside a bar in Waco after thoughtfully inquiring: Where do you want it? Billy Joe had friends in high places: Willie’s lawyers somehow helped him dodge a bullet in that matter and Shaver was acquitted based on self-defense. Where do you want it, indeed! Later, Shaver would actually suffer a heart attack on stage but recovered from that too and continued to perform. When I heard that he had passed — at the age of 81 — at first I couldn’t believe it: BJS had an air of immortality about him.

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