PT 2: BILLY JOE SHAVER REFLECTS ON FAME AND FAITH
In Part 1 (CLICK HERE), as his friend and ex-wife Wanda Lynn Shaver tended to his ailing knee, Texas legend Billy Joe Shaver reminisced for CMACloseUp.com about his emergence as a songwriter through Waylon Jennings’ classic album Honky Tonk Heroes and the birth of the Outlaw movement in Country Music. The memories and physical therapy continue in this installment, which focuses on his new album and ongoing faith.
Released Aug. 5 by Lightning Rod Records, Billy Joe Shaver’s Long in the Tooth is a collection of songs – some co-writes with his peers – that express Shaver’s point of view at 75 years of fortune, both good and bad.
“It’s not exactly a concept album because each and every song is different, but you can’t get away from what you are and who you are,” he said.
This is a collection from the viewpoint of an aging outcast who has had trouble playing the fame game. “Sometimes I was so far under the radar that nobody knew what I was doing and half the time I didn’t know what I was doing. But as long as I’m writing songs, I’m successful,” he said.
“I didn’t really feel neglected. That’s the luck of the draw. You have to be up there (in Nashville) in everybody’s face for people to recognize you. I have stepped on enough toes that I’ll always be remembered there,” he said, laughing in self-mockery.
When assembling the album by sorting through what he refers to as his “mucho gusto” song choices, Shaver thought about some of the best albums and how “diversification” made them different. “That’s entertaining to me. Elvis Presley used to put out albums and it seemed like every song had a different beat. I got to thinking I’d try to make things different on this album.”
One of the album’s many moment-in-time snapshots is “Hard to Be An Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson, who delivers a slightly more melancholy reading of the song on his own new Band of Brothers album. “It’s hard to be an outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore,” the old outcasts sing in a tune that skewers current Country Music while looking backward through the telescope and toasting the view. “I’m really proud of Willie,” said Shaver. “He keeps on coming through” as a friend and ally.
As on every album during his career, there are nods to his faith on Long in the Tooth. “There always will be,” Shaver said. “That’s in my heart. I’m a born-again Christian. I know it’s hard for people to believe. I am beginning to wonder if I could be born again again. I’ve slid back so many times.”
It’s almost time for his most recent ex-wife to tend to his rehab from his knee surgery. They’ve been married and divorced three times. He was married and divorced from his first wife three times too.
“The divorces just kept not working out,” he said. He nursed his first wife during her long three-year mortal struggle with cancer after their marriages ended, much as she now nurses him.
“We’re good friends and we’re not going to get married now,” he said. “You don’t do friends that way.”
He returned to the topic of his new album. “I put everything I had into it. I don’t worry about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but all the sudden I’m going to get played, after all these years.”
He doesn’t worry about exposing himself in his songs. “I think everybody ought to write. It’s the cheapest psychiatrist you can get. And you’ll tell yourself things you wouldn’t tell a good psychiatrist.”
And for success to come at 75, well, he said, age has its benefits. “If artists that paint pictures and write books stopped when they were younger, we wouldn’t have some of the great books or paintings. Some of them were pretty dadgone old and lucky to be around when they did their best work.
“I feel like music’s the same way. The cream always rises to the top. I think it’s gonna turn things to where people start paying a little more attention to fellers who are supposedly over the hill.”
He stops to wince. His knee is bothering him. “I’d forgotten how much pain hurts. Yeah, pain hurts. Death kills and pain hurts.”
Photography credit: Jim McGuire
Listen to “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” from Billy Joe Shaver’s upcoming Long in the Tooth: