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Billy Joe Shaver Billy Joe Shaver: An interview with an 'old five and dimer.'

March 6, 2015

Billy Joe Shaver's bare bones honesty provided the backdrop for the outlaw movement in the 1970s that changed country music forever. Waylon Jennings created his "Honky Tonk Heroes" album from Shaver's music and that started a revolution in country music. Shaver's classic album, "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" in the 70's opened the flood gate for artists like Willie Nelson, David Allen Coe, Johnny Cash and Jennings by recording Shaver's songs. Shavers' success did not come without controversy.

Billy Joe Shaver's new album "Long In the Tooth" proves itself to be as brilliant and poignant as his first album 40 years ago. His appearance at the Rialto Theatre March 18, 2015 supports the new album. This week I had to opportunity to interview Mr. Shaver and here are the highlights.

AXS: I remember the old days when my buddy, Sammi Smith used to come off the road and play the new songs she heard while in Texas. She would start playing guitar and sing "Georgia On A Fast Train." She would smile like she had found a chunk of gold. Waylon Jennings would come over and do the same thing, but the song was "Old Five and Dimers." Everyone was excited by your music. They were convinced that this was going to make them big stars.

BJS: Well, yeah, it didn't hurt me either.

AXS: In my mind, I credit you for having a large role in the outlaw movement.

BJS: When we did that, everybody started writing that way. It would be hard to tell who did what. It was on the edge stuff. Chet Adkins fought it all the way. It finally got through to him that one of them was going to do it regardless. About six months later after it had hit. Here comes Chet and he apologized to me. He treated me bad for a long time. It was like I was going to ruin his whole world. I was determined to get those songs out, but I couldn't sing them as good as Waylon. They were bigger than I was and I knew that. My only recourse was to get Waylon to do them. I went through hell to get him to do them, but I got him to do them. He finally figured it out himself. I was about to give up, but he finally caught on.

AXS: I don't think it took him that long. It may have seemed like it to you.

BJS: Well, seconds seemed like days.

AXS: Waylon would come over and sing, but his voice always seemed weak compared to his records.

BJS: He probably had been up for awhile. He may have been as old as some of them, but he was the king. There'll never be another one better. As a matter of fact I know there won't. He had such a range, such a good guy too. He was every bit as tough as he put on.

AXS: He had a sensitive side about him, too.

Billy Joe Shaver BJS: Yeah, he was a sweet guy. A big-hearted guy.

AXS: As far as they were concerned, you were a 'god.'

BJS: Laughing, wish I had known that. One day, he said, Billy, "I did "Old Five and Dimers" and felt so bad about driving this Cadillac around." I said, "okay give it to me." We were joking. You just couldn't tell what he was going to do next. I'm a whole lot the same way. He and I werepretty close. Close enough that he knew what I was going to say before I said it. He knew exactly what I meant. He was a good soul mate to a lot of people. Jessi (Colter) stuck with him for a whole lot of years. She stayed with him throughout his health problems. No matter what she did, she stayed with him. They don't make women much like that anymore. She had a lot of balls. I think the world of her.

XS: You still live in Texas. Do you live in Austin?

BJS: I live in Waco. I'm a wacko from Waco. I'm moving up to Nashville. That's were all my friends are that are alive. I got friends down here, but their all dead. I lived in Nashville longer than I lived in any one place my whole life. That's why I have so many friends there. I have a lot of enemies, but they are all dead.

AXS: This is a lead into your new album, "Long In The Tooth."

BJS: Yeah, it's a good one. It's a good album. If I were to hand that album over to Waylon, he would do every song on the album. Because that's the truth. He was leaning the same way I am. It's real honest. It's leaning toward getting old.

AXS: The album has been a long time in the making.

BJS: We've been wanting to do it, but most of it got written in the studio. I've got over 500 songs written, trying to pick the right one. But we'd get in there and all of a sudden, I'd write a song and it worked. "Outlaw" was one that got written in the studio.

AXS: It's a great song. That's the duet you did with Willie Nelson.

Billy Joe Shaver BJS: It worked out good. And "Long In The Tooth' was one I had been writing with a friend of mine, Paul Gleason. Paul Gleason is a movie star. Did you ever see that move "The Breakfast Club?" He was the professor in that. He was a world traveler and kind of a gypsy type guy just like I was and he and I formed a real good friendship. We were going to finish the song, but he died of cancer. Just as a tribute to him, I went ahead and finished it. I had a lot of help from everybody. Gary Nicholson, Tony Joe White. Tony Joe is so good at that crazy 'pickin.' I don't think any of those hip-hop people have heard anything like that. Not so much the words, but the playing. Pretty wild and off the wall.

AXS: Would you consider this a concept album?

BJS: Yeah, it seemed that way. We didn't intend for it to. It just happened that way. It just trickled on down to it and there it was.

AXS: What are your favorite songs?

BJS: (Laugh) Come on now. You love them as much as you do the others. You can't say. Probably the one you would pick would be the one others don't want to hear. And then the one you didn't pick would be the one that would be the hit. That's the beautiful thing about music is that nobody can pick a hit. Thanks, God. The people pick the hits.

AXS: You wrote the second song on the cd, "Music City USA." Is that about Johnny Cash?

BJS: No, that is about Kris Kristofferson. I mention Cash in the song. Johnny Cash was a big hero of mine. I worked for Cash for a couple of years. The song could have been about either Cash or Kristofferson.

AXS: Is that Mickey Raphael on Harmonica?

BJS: Yeah, he's the only one who plays on my records! I don't think you can beat him. He's the best I think. There's another who plays on my album Everybody's Brother. Go down to the song, "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ," me with Johnny Cash and my band playing. We only did it once and it's magical. It really comes off good. Anyway the harmonica player, Rogy Ray is my harmonica player. He's got so many tattoos you can't hardly see out his eyes. Johnny loved to hear him play. He'd come around and he jumped in and sang on it. It could be a big hit if someone would just release it. Everybody claims they own it, but I own it. I've got the master and everything. Jack Clement sold it to Sony and John Carter Cash. If they would just let that one song out, it would be a hit. Anyway, I've got another album ready to roll. I'm fixing to go in and do it. We're doing real good. We're out there working.

AXS: The song "Long In The Tooth is a rocking kind of song, but I noticed Les Claypool does a song with the same name.

BJS: It doesn't really matter. You can't copyright a song title. The song was actually written thirty years ago by Paul Gleason as a poem. I noticed it in his book. I said 'hey man.' He said, hey man heck, your are going to help me write that." We were real good friends. He'd come to Houston and I'd hang out with him and if I went to LA and I'd hang out with him. Great guy. He played guitar and we got along real good.

AXS: It sounds like you've had a great time and you've had a lot of great friends!

BJS: I've had a lot of fun. It's just that women make a fool out of me.

Billy Joe Shaver AXS: How many times you been married?

BJS: I married the same girl three times, my first wife. The last time, I married her, she had cancer and she died three years later. I stayed with her by her side all three years. It was rough because I let everything that was going to happen to me in the music world go. I wrote a few songs about her during that time and just sang them to her. She passed and then I had a big ole heart attack. Actually she passed away and then my mother passed away, and then my son passed away. Eddie played guitar for me. He passed away New Year's Eve 2000 and she passed away in 1999. It was so hard to take because I'm Christian you know. I couldn't figure out why I was the one that got left. Cause I was the worst one of them all. Anyhow, I carried on and I had a heart attack and a four-way by-pass. I ran into this old gal. This lady and she could out drink me. I married her three times. We divorced each other three times. The divorces kept not working out.

AXS: So are you married now?

BJS: No, not now. I'm moving back to Nashville. I gotta go back up there. All my friends are up there. My great, great, great, great grandfather, his name was Evan Thomas Watson. Him and two other fellows came down from Kentucky to Texas to form the Republic of Texas. He's one of the ones that helped form the Republic of Texas. So, I'm a real true Texan. I'm thinking about moving just right up the road from Nashville, about 60 -90 miles from Nashville. It's so beautiful. I have some old kinfolks from way back.

AXS: Back to the album. The last song on the album seems to end on an optimistic note.

BJS: Yeah, I got tired of singing them derelict songs. I wanted something uplifting. I don't really like to write any kind of depressing songs. I like to write songs that will heal you. "Old Chunk of Coal" and "Live Forever" stuff like that. That song there came to me because I kind of fell into that same area. Not that I completely captured it. In Nashville, I'm sure I probably will.

AXS: The "Long In The Tooth" album came out in August.

BJS: It's been real slow. I'm with a small company and they don't have the guns these other companies do. The things are getting there slowly, but the company is hanging in there because its real good quality stuff. It's not going to go away. There was no gigantic push on this one. We figured it would make its way. And it has.

AXS: The last time I saw you, it was at the Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic.

BJS: Oh, yes. I play that every year. I'll play that in Fort Worth again this year. Willie already called me. It's a hoot. It all goes back to Willie. He's a sweet guy. It's just a piece of him.

AXS: You are going to be in Tucson at the Rialto Theatre March 18. I hope to see you.

BJS: Oh, yes! I'll be the big guy in the cowboy hat.

Related articles:

Billy Joe Shaver (Farm Aid 2011) - Concert review - Kansas City, MO August 2011
Billy Joe Shaver - Concert review - Kansas City, MO August 2011

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