Written by Matt Matthews
May 04, 2011 at 12:00 AM
ImageOn May 4, 2011 Houston Music Review’s Matt Matthews caught up to Corsicana native and songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver prior to his performance at Main Street Crossing in Tomball, TX.  The Texas music icon turns 72 in August and despite overwhelming adversity in the past decade or so including losing his mother, wife and son, guitarist Eddie Shaver, all in the span of a year and the highly publicized attempted murder trial and subsequent acquittal last year stemming for a bar room shooting incident outside Waco, BJS has showed no signs of slowing down.  Looking fit and ready to perform in his trademark denim pearl snap shirt and weather beaten straw hat, Billy Joe perched himself on the arm of  sofa and looked as comfortable as if he were on his own back porch.

MM: Welcome to Tomball, by the way.

BJS: It’s good to be here.

MM: You’ve been in this business a long time.  How long exactly have you been doing this professionally?

BJS: Well, I really never have been doing it professionally; it’s more of a labor of love.  I didn’t ever think I’d make any money at it.  I didn’t intend to, but looks like I’m gonna make a living, ya know.  Not settin’ the world on fire, but as long as I make it to the next gig, it’s fine with me. And I started singing and writtin songs at about 8 (years old).  As a matter of fact I was 8 years old when I sold papers there on the corner in Corsicana, Texas. (Starts singing) “Paper here, Corsicana Daily Sun”

MM: Singing to sell the paper

BJS: (laughs) Yeah… So a lot of times they just bought them to keep me shut up. Naw but, this is something I fell back on when I lost my fingers when I was 21, in a sawmill accident.  I just fell back on music.  A lot of people fall back on their other jobs, but this happened this way.

MM: What year was that?

BJS:  I was about 21, and I went to gather a bunch of poems and things I had together, making sure that I had what I had because I knew I was good.  I always knew that.  And I don’t know what I thought I’d do with it. But I got to reading the Bible, and I got to thinking about it, and when this happened (raises right hand) I said, “God I’ll do it. I’ll do what I’m supposed to do” and that’s make music and sing, stuff like that.  What I was talented… the gift he gave me.  So I started doing that, I was in my 30’s before I started really kinda getting people paying much attention to me.

MM:  That ‘73 album from Waylon, (Honky-Tonk Heroes)

BJS:  Well, yeah that.  In the 60’s I wrote a bunch of really good songs.  Like, oh, let’s see… When The Word Was Thunderbird is a song I wrote back in ‘66. It didn’t get published until ‘69, that’s when I met Bobby Bare.  A lot of those things, I wrote way back yonder.  Bobby was so cheap, he didn’t wanna publish them, he didn’t wasn’t to have them copyrighted until we got them recorded.  And I had boocoos of songs, and still do. I have probably over 500 songs at least. I never thought about counting them.  I go back now even, and if I think I hadn’t written good enough, actually I always know I will write good.  I’m not bragging, I’m just telling you the truth.  But when I go to do an album, I can always go back and I’ll find something to fit in with that, ya know, way back yonder somewhere.  It’s almost like talking to another person.  Ya know, it’s like I don’t co-write a lot. But, I wind up a lot of times having an idea and going ahead and working on it, then somebody will come along, a friend, and say “Lemme help you with it”.  Then I wind up writing the whole thing and giving them half. (Laughs)

MM: Well, let me ask you about that? Because, that ‘73 album, a lot of people say, with that, you kind of helped develop the Outlaw Sound, what was called the Outlaw movement back then.

GJS    Well, yeah.

MM:  It’s kind of like what is happening these days. It’s sort of the same thing.  Can you compare the two times?

BJS:  Kinda sort of.  In a way, there’s a lot of people really TRYING to be that way.  We were just naturally that way.  Waylon was that way.  He was right on… we were parallel. We just… it’s just the way we were.  And that’s the way we grew up.  I just happened to be in touch with the greatest singer, I thought, that ever lived.  And still think that. Because man, if you went to one of his live shows you’d see he had such a range. He can do anything.  Just amazing, amazing guy.  I can sing almost as good as him now. I don’t know, ever once in a while I might sing as good as he did.  Every once in a while. I don’t know.

MM:  You work with some of the young guys these days, Todd Snider…

BJS:  Yeah

MM:… Kevin Fowler with the Cant Hardly Playboy thing.

BJS: Yeah

MM:  Do you have a favorite guy?

BJS: I’ve always liked Todd Snider. But he’s got his own thing.  He’s just that dang good.  And he and I just get along so good.  We get in trouble just about every time we get together. (Laughs) Other then that, he’s a great writer.  He tells it like it is.  He’s a good fella.

MM:  Are you a big fan of Jackson Taylor?

BJS:  Oh yeah love Jackson, yeah man yeah.

MM:  One of the nicest guys but…

BJS:  …you don’t wanna get him mad.  He was a wrestler, man, in school. I think he was an All American or something.

ImageMM:  He may have been born about 30 years too late.
BJS: (Laughs) If he would have been around it would have changed everything.  I think the world of Jackson.  He’s a really great talent.  Great writer, great singer, entertainer.  Just a good ol’ boy.

MM:    You talked about your song writing talent being God given. A lot of your songs are obviously filtered through so much tragedy and strife in your life.  Can you find some kind of balance in that?

BJS:  Well, you know, I just write them, and somehow or another … you look at every song I got and you see some kind of spiritualism seeping in there.  And that’s just the way I am.

MM:  It seems like you peel back the dark part of the tragedy and sort of shine a light on what you can get out of it.

BJS:  I like to make lemonade out of lemons.  I have shirts that have a picture of my hand on them (raises right hand).  I believe in that… I believe you take whatever it is that you think really hurt you, and spin it around a little bit and you can make it work great for you.  Make it help you pick yourself up.

MM: Let me ask you one more thing, of all the songs you’ve written do you have a favorite?

BJS: Boy I tell ya, it’s just like having a bunch of kids, ya know.  You love the buck toothed ones just as much as you do the others.  It’s hard to say.  The one I’m singing at the time is the one I love.  I can’t really pick out one. It’s like pulling your kids up and saying which kid’s your favorite.  For me it’s hard.  I can’t much do that.  But out of all of them that profoundly say things, I believe Old Five And Dimers says a lot.  And I very seldom do that.

MM: Will you do it tonight?

BJS:  I might, because uh, the crowd seems like they might be listening.

MM:  I’ve got a request, will you do Honey Bee.

BJS:  Honey Bee, yeah, I wrote that when I was 8 years old.  I held it back and I didn’t finish it.  It was about this girl that I liked a whole lot. And I ran by and kissed her one day and she fell in a mud puddle.  She had on a pretty red dress and her daddy owned a grocery store.  He run me down in his pick up truck and just beat the confound you know what out of me.  Had knots all over my head and everything.  I went down there to my grandma and I told her what happened.  She grabbed me by my little old arm, drug me up there to that grocery store and she said, “You stand right here”. I sat there, and she went inside.  It wasn’t long before she had that man out there.  And I said, “Oh God, I’m gonna have to apologize to him now.” And my grandma just beat the confound hell outta him.  She was a Collins, ya know, Irish lady.  I mean her ass, about 13 axe handles wide.  She could sit down on a punch; I mean she beat him up real bad.  And then she took me home and whooped me.  She raised me until I was 12, bless her heart.

MM:  Thank you so much for spending the time

Billy Joe Shaver then proceeded to put on a hell of a live show to a completely attentive audience.  Mixing the spiritual with the raucous, Shaver kept the crowd focused for over 90 minutes.  And yes he did perform Old Five And Dimers and yes the audience did listen.  And are still listening to one of Texas’ greatest musical treasures.