Posted July 1, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Billy Joe Shaver: Movin’ higher up the hill

Billy Joe Shaver by Jim McGuire
Billy Joe Shaver by Jim McGuire

On Long in the Tooth, his first studio album in six years, Billy Joe Shaver sounds as feisty as ever. Set for an August 5 release, the album features some of his most memorable tunes. A Corsicana, Texas native, Shaver, who turns 75 this year, was raised by his grandmother, working on farms and selling newspapers on the street to make ends meet. He then hitchhiked to Nashville in 1965 and would eventually earned a $50-a-week writer’s deal with Bobby Bare’s publishing company. He’s since established himself as a solo artist, nurturing an outlaw country attitude. He phoned us as while driving through Missouri on the way to a gig.

You’ve said your new album Long in the Tooth is the best album you’ve ever made. Why is that?
I’m singing a whole lot better than I ever have and I’m writing just as good as I ever have. People are starting to pay attention to me now. I don’t know why it wound up that way but it did. You won’t find me slacking. I’m going to drive that nail home. Anyone can drive a straight nail but I bent that thing few times. I’ll still get it there. I’m not letting up on nothing. Everything is as strong as it ever was. It looks like everyone has figured that out — I’m writing great songs and they need to hear them.

You team up with Willie Nelson on “Hard to be an Outlaw.” Talk about what that was like.
That’s great. He sings on that with me. He put it on his new album, too. It just went to Number 1 yesterday. He put that and “The Git Go” on his album. I have two on that album that just went to Number 1 so I feel pretty good about that. I’ve known Willie since 1953. I was just a kid when I met him. He’s always written great songs. I’ve never heard a bad song out of him. It’s always well-written and got a front and back to it. It’s always got some good stuff in the middle too.

Talk about that notion of outlaw country. Do you feel like you pioneered the genre?
Well, everybody seems to think I did. The truth is that when we were busting in there, we couldn’t be denied because the songs were so good. We were more like outcasts than outlaws. They didn’t want us in there. I say “they” and they are us. The songwriters and their sequins and stuff. They spent on a lot of money on their suits and stuff and we just wore blue jeans and pretty soon everybody was wearing blue jeans and trying to sell their suits. You could get in a place without having a tie. It changed the whole town really. I lived in Nashville longer than I have anywhere. It’s more like home to me than anything even though I’m from Texas.

Was Waylon Jennings the first guy to record one of your songs?
No. Bobby Bare and Kris Kristofferson. [Kristofferson] did “Christian Solider” on that Silver Tongued Devil and I album. I can’t remember way back yonder. It’s been quite a while. It’s time for everything to turn over. About ever 20 years, everything turns over. And now everybody has started to listen to me. That’s great for me.

I ain’t trying to make no money. I just want to prove a point. I wanna bop until I drop.

I love the title track to your new album Long in the Tooth. Was there something in particular that inspired it?
Paul Gleason is a friend of mine who was a movie star. He passed away but he was the teacher in The Breakfast Club. He’s in a lot of movies. He’s a great guy. He’s an old roustabout like me. We became friends a long, long time ago. We started writing the song and he passed away before he finished. I decided to finish it and put it out in honor of him. I just love the guy and he’ a great poet. He was a great actor.

What about “The Git Go”? What inspired that?
I’ve had that song in my head for so long. Everyone is always saying he’s been doing this since the “git go.” It was a good challenge for me to write a song about that. It finally came to me and Gary Nixon got in there and helped me. I took a whole mess of stuff we had. It wasn’t very good. I sat down at the table and made myself write it correctly. I got it right. I think it’s the way everybody feels about everything. It’s the futility of war. There’s no sense in it but as long as there’s man around there’s going to be war.

How do your religious beliefs influence your music?
I don’t know how they get in there but they ease in there somewhere. It’s just ‘cause of the way I think. I’m married to Jesus Christ. I love Jesus Christ. I’m married to him right now. I’m not married to a woman or man. I’m trying to walk the line and do what I’m supposed to. I won’t try to stick it down your throat. I just talk it the right way. Everyone knows the different between right and wrong.

I’m just trying to help a few people along the way. The more you help people up the hill, the higher up the hill you’ll get.

Do you have any regrets regarding the shooting incident in Lorena, Texas?
No. I’m really happy about that. He had a gun too. He was shooting at me. It wasn’t like how you read it in the papers. He shot at my three times and I had to return fire with a little Derringer. I hit him right between the mother and the fucker, in the mouth. It was one shot. It was lucky. Lucky for him, it didn’t kill him. He was a real bully. He’s said he’s sorry but he could have said that long before that inside the club.

You don’t drink do you?
I don’t drink unless somebody comes up and says, “Will you have a drink with me?” I might take a sip. I don’t drink alcohol at all, not even an ounce of it. I’ve had a heart attack and I have these medications and blood thinners and stuff. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning without having a hangover.

Well, the tune “Last Call for Alcohol” still turned out great.
Me and Gary Nixon wrote that about 30 years ago. He kept wanting me to record it and finally I did.

You’ll be 75 in August. How much longer do you think you’ll be touring and recording?
Yeah. I’ll keep going. I had one heart attack on stage. Merle Haggard put it best. He spouts off that he’s going to quit but he won’t quit; there ain’t no quit in him.

 Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

Willie’s Locally Known – Lexington, KY
Radio Radio – Indianopolis, IN
FitzGerald’s American Music Festival – Berwyn, IL
The Ark – Ann Arbor, MI
Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, OH
The Sportsmen’s Tavern – Buffalo, NY
The Hamilton – Washington DC
Hill Country BBQ – New York, NY
Sellersville Theater – Sellersville, PA
The Village Idiot – Maumee, OH
Woodlands Tavern – Columbus, OH
Southgate House Revival – Newport, KY
Old Rock House – St. Louis, MO
Minglewood Hall – 1884 Lounge – Memphis, TN
Floore’s Country Store – Helotes, TX
Granada Theater – Alpine, TX
Country Club Saloon Back 40 Amphitheater – Loomis, CA
The Freight – Berkeley, CA
Rancho Nicasio – Nicasio, CA
Audie’s Olympic – Fresno, CA
Don the Beachcomber – Huntington Beach, CA
The Museum Club – Flagstaff, AZ
The Rhythm Room – Phoenix, AZ
The Blue Light Live –Lubbock, TX
The Lumberyard – Roscoe, TX
Mule Barn – Justin, TX
Stumblin’ Goat Saloon – Canadian, TX
Four Sisters Ranch UTOPIAfest – Utopia, TX
Mercy Lounge – Nashville, TN
State Street Stage – Bristol, TN
Paramount Theatre – Austin, TX
Wishbone Ranch Outlaw Fest – Bowling Green, KY


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].