Press Release: Billy Joe Shaver releases ‘Live at Billy Bob’s Texas,’ first newly recorded performances in nearly two decades
Twenty-two track package features CD and DVD; includes two new previously unreleased songs
WACO, Texas — Country songwriting icon and honky tonk hero Billy Joe Shaver and his Heart of Texas Band offer the best from his catalog of legendary songs in concert from the stage of the world’s largest honky tonk. Shaver’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, slated to be released July 17, 2012 on Smith Music Group is his first album in five years. The fully loaded special package includes 20 live renditions of some of his most notable compositions on an audio CD and DVD as well as two bonus tracks, and is the first set of new concert recordings since 1995 to be issued to the public. Included among Shaver classics and favorites are two new songs: “Wacko From Waco” (co-written with his longtime friend Willie Nelson) and “The Git Go,” proving that his muse remains as fertile as ever.
Born, raised and still living in the rolling plains of Central Texas, Shaver is not just the epitome of a songwriter’s songwriter, but a singer, recording artist and performer as well as actor and published author. A genuine salt of the earth natural talent whose acclaimed work is free of any artifice. The esteem he has accrued since 1973 — when he issued his first album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me, and Waylon Jennings recorded nine of Shaver’s songs on his landmark Honky Tonk Heroes LP that heralded the arrival of country music’s outlaw movement — is best measured by the fellow writers and talents who admire, perform and have recorded his compositions. Revered American novelist John Steinbeck’s favorite song was “Old Five and Dimers,” which has also been played at live shows by Bob Dylan, who mentions Shaver in his recent song “I Feel a Change Comin’ On.” Just some of the distinguished artists who have recorded Shaver’s works are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kris Kristofferson, The Allman Brothers, Bobby Bare, John Anderson, George Jones, Tex Ritter, Patty Loveless and Willie Nelson, who says that “Billy Joe Shavermay be the best songwriter alive today.”
At the same time, there’s nothing else like Shaver himself performing his songs. Live at Billy Bob’s Texasdelivers all the dynamism, musical variety, emotion and personality of a Shaver show in both audio and video. The set opens with his paean to his home place, “Heart of Texas,” a Lone Star dancehall two-step with a rock kick from his band: guitarist Jeremy Woodall, drummer Jason Lynn McKenzie and bassist Matt Davis. Included are vibrant renditions of such signature Shaver numbers as “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Old Chunk of Coal,” “Live Forever” and “Old Five and Dimers,” along with gems from across the range of his career. Shaver rocks numbers like “That’s What She Said Last Night,” “Black Rose,” “Hottest Thing in Town” and others. He hits an electric Western groove on “Thunderbird,” harks back to ragtime on “Good Old USA,” country-waltzes Texas style on “I Couldn’t Be Me Without You,” tenderly renders “Star in My Heart” a cappella, and wraps it all up with a rousing “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ.” His recent legal troubles are wittily recounted on “Wacko From Waco” while the hauntingly bluesy “The Git Go” deftly summarizes the facts of life since the dawn of history. The double-disc set is the ultimate Shaver live experience as well as a de facto greatest hits collection, and finds Shaver as potent as ever in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The Live at Billy Bob’s Texasseries includes more than two hundred #1 Billboard hits. Billy Joe Shaver is the 42nd artist to record for the series, joining Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Gary Stewart, David Allan Coe, Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band, Stoney LaRue, Wade Bowen and many others as a member of the Live at Billy Bob’s Texas family.
Hailing from Corsicana, Texas, Shaver’s Lone Star State roots run deep: His great-great-great grandfather, Revolutionary War veteran Evan Thomas Watson, was one of the founders of the Republic. Also descended from Native American legend Crazy Horse, Shaver was raised in hardscrabble circumstances by his grandmother, working on farms and selling newspapers on the street in his youth. He sang and made up songs “since I could talk,” and was inspired in his childhood to keep at it after sneaking out of home one night to catch a country music show where he heard Hank Williams early in his career. At the same time he also was steeped in the blues from an uncle’s record collection and the music of neighboring African-American farm workers. “Country music is really close to being the blues, and rock ’n’ roll ain’t nothing but the blues with a beat. That’s about it,” he says of the origins of his fluent Texan roots music sound.Shaver was given a Gene Autry guitar by his grandmother at age 11 and began playing until his stepfather gave it away a few years later as payment for yard work. Following a brief stint in the Navy at age 16, a stab at professional rodeo, and losing parts of three fingers on his right hand in an accident while working at a sawmill, Shaver took up playing guitar again and devoted himself to songwriting.
He hitchhiked to Nashville in 1965 and eventually won a $50 a week writer’s deal with Bobby Bare’s publishing company. Shaver finally made his secure mark by writing all but one song on Jennings’ Honk Tonk Heroes. As the Washington Post notes, “When the country outlaws were collecting their holy writings, Billy Joe Shaver was carving out Exodus.” He followed his debut on the Monument label with three albums on Capricorn Records and two on Columbia through 1987, seeing little commercial success with his recordings but winning rave reviews and the admiration of his musical peers. In 1993, he broke through with new generations and broader audiences just as the currently booming Americana and Texas roots music and singer-songwriter scenes were gathering steam with the acclaimed Tramp On Your Street, united with his late guitar-playing son Eddy as simply Shaver. He has since issued 11 more independent albums, was honored with the first Americana Music Award for Lifetime Achievement in Songwriting in 2002, and inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.
His life is the stuff of legend, having lived through times tough, tragic and wild, faced serious health problems over the last decade or so and rebounded, and was acquitted of charges from a 2007 shooting incident outside a Texas barroom. Through it all he has continued to compose songs of plainspoken eloquence, poetic resonance, hard-won wisdom, soulful spirituality, and rich real-life imagery.
“I’m still writing as good as I always have,” says Shaver, who claims no secret behind his lauded craftsmanship. “I don’t even know it myself. It’s a gift, I swear. I never tried to hone my talents or anything like that. It’s always been like breathing in and out to me.” He does offer one basic tenet for writing good songs: “Simplicity don’t need to be greased.”
He cheekily yet still seriously confesses, “a lot of my songs are written trying to save my life, and that worked. The rest are written trying to get back into the house. Plus writing is the cheapest psychiatrist there is, and God knows I still need one. So I’m in good shape.”
As his well deserved public recognition came in the 1990s, Shaver was cast by his friend and fan Robert Duvall in his acclaimed 1996 film The Apostle, and has since played parts in three other theatrical and TV movies. He was the subject of a 2004 documentary produced by Duvall, A Portrait of Billy Joe, and published his autobiography, Honky Tonk Hero, the following year. He also sings the themes to the Adult Swim television show Squidbillies, and “Live Forever” was included in the award-winning hit movie Crazy Heartas its end-credit song.
“There’s sometimes I don’t believe I did all that but I did,” says Shaver of his many achievements. “I haven’t jumped up on tables or anything and pounded my chest and screamed about this and that, but I’ve done quite a bit.” But what he is most proud of is how many noted songwriters have also recorded his songs. “That’s kind of like my trophies. Instead of getting CMA Awards, that means a whole lot more to me.
“When you write songs, and you write good songs, people will always remember you,” he concludes. “Words will always outlive us. And if your name is attached to those words, you’re gonna live forever.”