He tours now in what he describes as an old “church van,” a 15-seater with almost 500,000 miles on it. It replaced another van that eclipsed 500,000 miles. Billy Joe Shaver still has that one. It still runs. He married Brenda Tindell three separate times. After she died, he married Wanda Lynn Canady. Three separate times.
When he was young, he wrote a signature song with the chorus hook, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” A decade or so later, he wrote another one of his best, a Christian testament to life everlasting titled “Live Forever.” He’s still a diamond in the rough, but his new Long in the Tooth album doesn’t sound like the music of a man who plans to live forever. On this earth, at least. He raps (yes, raps!) on the title cut — “Time did a number on me / I ain’t the man I used to be.” On the opening “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” he sings, “It’s hard to be an outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore.” It’s an album about getting old, about falling apart, and Billy Joe thinks it’s the best one he’s ever recorded. It’s hard to argue with him. Top three at least.
Willie Nelson, who sings with him on “Hard to Be an Outlaw” (and has also included that and another song from Billy Joe’s album on his own new album, Band of Brothers), has often called Shaver the best songwriter alive. Waylon Jennings once recorded almost an entire album of Shaver songs, 1973’s Honky Tonk Heroes, which became the cornerstone of the Outlaw Country movement. Elvis Presley sang one of his songs, and so has Bob Dylan (who also name-checked him in his own “I Feel a Change Coming On,” where Dylan sings, “I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver, and I’m reading James Joyce”).
Nobody is more country than Billy Joe Shaver. On a new song titled “Last Call for Alcohol,” he sings it “al-kee-hol.” Nobody who is less country than Billy Joe Shaver pronounces it “al-kee-hol.”
He was born and raised in Corsicana, a central Texas town that many know for its fruitcakes. He’s long lived in nearby Waco, as reflected in “Wacko from Waco,” which details the 2007 incident in which he shot a man at a bar and was subsequently acquitted. He can’t wait to hit the road and get away from home, as soon as his new knee works right and his inner ear problems, which affect his balance, clear up.
The night after his mother died, he played his scheduled club date. The night after his only son, guitarist Eddy, was discovered dead from a heroin overdose, he played his scheduled club date. The night his trial ended and he was free, he played his scheduled club date. The show must go on.
When he talks, he has no filter, and he pulls no punches. He’ll turn 75 on Aug. 16. A month later, on Sept. 28, luminaries will gather in Austin for a star-studded concert celebration. He deserves nothing less — and a whole lot more.