Born in Corsicana, Texas, and raised by a grandmother named Victory, Billy Joe
Shaver became one of country music's brilliant enigmas. A bare-knuckled poet
whose songs often chronicled his rowdy times, Shaver assessed himself in lines
like, "Got a good Christian raisin' and an eighth grade education/Ain't no need
in y'all a-treatin' me this way," and "There's one in every crowd, for crying
out loud/Why was it always turning out to be me."
Shaver was beloved by some of the central figures of country music's twentieth
century, including Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Tom T. Hall, the latter
of whom wrote the liner notes to Shaver's 1973 debut, Old Five and Dimers
Like Me: "If the world is God's television set, with which he entertains
himself, Billy Joe Shaver is on Monday mornings at 3:00."
After a hardscrabble upbringing and a lumber-mill job that cost him two fingers
on his right hand, Shaver hitchhiked to Nashville in the back of a cantaloupe
truck and eventually signed a publishing deal with Bobby Bare, who recorded
some of his songs and helped him get a Music City foothold. In 1973, Waylon
Jennings recorded Honky Tonk Heroes, an album that featured nine Shaver
songs and established him as a songwriter to be reckoned with. Many others have
since recorded his compositions, including Cash, Kristofferson, Willie Nelson,
Elvis Presley, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Tex Ritter, Tennessee Ernie Ford
and John Anderson, who had a #4 country hit in 1981 with Shaver's oft-covered
"I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal."
Shaver was a prolific recording artist, and, while his own albums never topped
country charts, he was much lauded by critics. His 1993 album Tramp on Your
Street was a highly praised collaboration with his son Eddy, who played
lead guitar and brought an amped-up electric sound to Shaver's work for the
rest of the decade. Their albums together were released under their last name
alone: Shaver. While he had country hits and earned songwriting awards for "I'm
Just an Old Chunk of Coal," "I Couldn't Be Me Without You (a #3 hit for Johnny
Rodriguez) and "You Asked Me To" (a Top 10 hit for Jennings in 1973), Shaver's
album cuts like "Black Rose," "Live Forever," "Georgia on a Fast Train" and
"Old Five and Dimers Like Me" were equally well-known. Shaver is a Texas Music
Hall of Famer and the winner of the Americana Music Association's Lifetime
Achievement Award in Songwriting.