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Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver at Eddie's Attic April 20, 2007
Background information
Birth name Billy Joe Shaver
Born August 16, 1939 (1939-08-16) (age 70)
Origin Corsicana, Texas, United States
Genres Country Music
Outlaw Country
Occupations Singer and Songwriter
Instruments Acoustic Guitar
Associated acts Lee Clayton
Jessi Colter
Waylon Jennings
Kris Kristofferson
Willie Nelson
Mickey Newbury
Steve Young
Johnny Cash
Notable instruments
Acoustic Guitar

Billy Joe Shaver (born August 16, 1939 in Corsicana, Texas) is an American country music singer and songwriter. Shaver's 1973 album Old Five and Dimers Like Me is a classic in the outlaw country genre.



Shaver was raised by his mother, Victory Watson Shaver, after his father Virgil left the family before he was born. Until he was 12, he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in Corsicana, Texas 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.[1]

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.[2]

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, Shaver 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.[2]

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.[2]

Shaver decided that life was too short to do something he didn't enjoy, so he set out one day to hitchhike to L.A.. He couldn't get a ride west, and ended up accompanying a man who dropped him off just outside of Memphis, Tennessee. The next ride brought him to Nashville, where he found a job as a songwriter for $50/week.[1] 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 his own record deal.

Unfortunately for Shaver, the first few recording companies he signed with soon folded.[1] 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. 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, Billy Joe came back to release a new album entitled Freedom's Child in 2002.

In 1999, Shaver was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. In November 2005, Billy Joe Shaver performed on the CMT Outlaws 2005. In 2006, Shaver was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. He recently 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.[3] He currently lives in Waco, Texas.

Shaver sings the themes to the Adult Swim Television show, Squidbillies.

Most notable records

Billy Joe Shaver's debut album was Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973). Almost every song on the album has become a classic (particularly the title track, as well as "I Been to Georgia On a Fast Train" and "Willy The Wandering Gypsy and Me"), many being performed by other artists such as David Allan Coe. When I Get My Wings (1976) included "Aint No God In Mexico" (also a hit for Waylon Jennings). Gypsy Boy (1977) included "Honky Tonk Heroes".

Shaver is also known for his hit "Live Forever", co-written by his son Eddy, which was also performed by The Highwaymen. Shaver also wrote numerous songs for artists such as Patty Loveless and Willie Nelson.

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

Billy Joe Shaver's most recent album, 2007's 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.

Shooting in Lorena, Texas

Police in Lorena, TX about 10 miles south of Waco, issued arrest warrants for Shaver April 2, 2007 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 on March 31, 2007, in which Shaver shot a man, Billy Bryant Coker, in the face with a handgun. Coker's injuries were reported as not life-threatening.

Witnesses interviewed by police report hearing Shaver saying "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.[4]

After unsuccessfully attempting to surrender to police in Austin, TX, who were unaware of the warrant, Shaver turned himself in at McLennan County Jail in Waco, TX 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,[5][6] where he reportedly told fans, "Don't forget to pray for me, and tell your kids to pray for me, too."


In 1996, Shaver took a part in the movie 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 2008, he co-starred with Bill Engvall and Billy Ray Cyrus in the made for TV USA Network Movie, Bait Shop.


  • "If you don't love Jesus, you can go to hell."
  • "May the God of your choice bless you." (Lent to his friend Kinky Friedman for his gubernatorial campaign)
  • "God loves you when you dance." (used extensively at a show in Kansas City.)
  • "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. So I don't work."
  • "This next tune... today's Father's Day, and my son passed away this New Year's Eve, and uh, I don't know, a lot of y'all knew him. He was a great guitar player by the name of Eddy Shaver, and this is a song that he and I wrote together and we're gonna do it here. Robert (Earl Keen) was so graciously... (Robert interrupts requesting Todd Snider's appearance) Yeah, bring Todd Snider up here, he's a good friend of ours. Thank you Robert, thank you for this cause, uh, it's Father's Day and it means a lot to me." (KPIG live performance of "Live Forever" from the Robert Earl Keen Swine Soiree in Watsonville, California in 2001 where Snider, not knowing Shaver was in attendance, had earlier performed the song "Waco Moon" written in memory of his friend Eddy Shaver who played guitar on Snider's Debut record "Songs for the Daily Planet.")


Studio albums

Year Album US Christian Label
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
1982 Billy Joe Shaver Columbia
1987 Salt of the Earth
1993 Tramp on Your Street Volcano
1995 Unshaven: Live at Smith's Olde Bar
1996 Highway of Life Justice
1998 Victory New West
1999 Electric Shaver
2001 The Earth Rolls On
2002 Freedom's Child Compadre
2003 Live from Down Under Sphincter
Try and Try Again Compadre
2004 Billy and the Kid
2005 A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver: Live
The Real Deal
2007 Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird Sugar Hill
Everybody's Brother 50 Compadre


Year Album Label
1994 Honky Tonk Heroes Bear Family
1995 Restless Wind Razor & Tie
2007 Greatest Hits Compadre


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country CAN Country
1973 "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" 88 Old Five and Dimers Like Me
1978 "You Asked Me To" 80 Gypsy Boy
1993 "Live Forever" 96 Tramp on Your Street


External links

None recognized before
AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting
Succeeded by
John Prine

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