Oh, Shoot! Billy Joe’s In Trou­ble Again

Hard Liv­ing Is Bane, Bless­ing for Singer

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts - By Joe Hol­ley

The first time I saw Billy Joe Shaver per­form, my wife, Tara, and I were at the old Ger­man dance hall in Luck­en­bach, Tex., the laid-back lit­tle burg that Wil­lie Nelson and Way­lon Jen­nings im­mor­tal­ized in the late 1970s. Shar­ing a cold Lone Star at a ta­ble on the edge of the crowded dance floor, the wooden shut­ters propped open for any hint of a Hill Coun­try breeze, we lost sight of our son Pete, who was 3 at the time.

Sec­onds later we spot­ted him out on the hard­wood floor. Barely knee-high in a thicket of boot-wear­ing two-step­pers, his blond head bob­bing and feet flash­ing, Pete was lost in his own Billy Joe Shaver bliss.

That was more than 20 years ago, but even now, at 67, the sil­ver-haired singer with the lived-in face and soul-stressed voice can have that ef­fect on a per­son, young or old. That is, when he’s not fac­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of jail time, as he is th­ese days for a lit­tle shoot­ing in­ci­dent near Waco.

Wil­lie Nelson once said: “Billy Joe Shaver may be the best song­writer alive to­day.” Bob Dylan, Elvis Pres­ley, Johnny Cash, the All­man Brothers, Kris Kristof­fer­son and of course Way­lon and Wil­lie have all cov­ered his songs.

It was Shaver who wrote nine of the cuts on “Honky Tonk He­roes,” Jen­nings’s break­through album. Among his many hits are “Ge­or­gia on a Fast Train,” “When the Fallen An­gels Fly,” “Black Rose,” “Wild Cow Gravy” and “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (but I’m Go­ing to Be a Di­a­mond Some­day).”

I’m familiar with the hard­scrab­ble ori­gins of that mu­sic, since Shaver and I are both old Waco boys. Ac­tu­ally, we’re from Bellmead, a work­ing-class sub­urb whose res­i­dents back then toiled at ei­ther the rub­ber plant (mak­ing tires) or at the Katy shops (re­pair­ing lo­co­mo­tives).

Shaver’s teenage mother, Vic­tory, who went by Tin­cie, was a wait­ress at Les­lie’s


Hard­ship has de­fined coun­try mu­si­cian and song­writer Billy Joe Shaver’s work and his life. He’s fac­ing as­sault and weapons charges.

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