Billy Joe Shaver on His Outlaw Life and Hard-Fought Comeback
Billy Joe Shaver likes to drink Red Bull. A lot of Red Bull. In Nashville, he sits in a small conference room at his record label’s office, located above Grimey’s New and Preloved Music. At his feet lies a tattered old bag adorned with images of bald eagles, filled with at least six cans of the potent energy drink.
“I drink 10 to 11 a day sometimes,” Shaver says. “Other times, three or four. It’s an old man’s bumper jack.” He mimes jacking up a car. “It lifts me up.”
That this particular beverage might not be advisable for a man who had a heart attack onstage at Texas’s Gruene Hall in 2001 is of no concern to Shaver.
“I had a four-way bypass and I have stents, but I figure if there’s new stuff in there it oughta not hurt it,” he says, taking a sip from the tiny can. “It’s better than the old one.”
Shaver, who turned 75 on August 16th, the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death — the King recorded one of Shaver’s songs, “You Asked Me To” — released his first studio album in seven years that same month. Titled Long in the Tooth, the record returns Shaver to the fore as one of country music’s most gifted songwriters. He famously penned the bulk of Waylon Jennings’ seminal 1973 LP, Honky Tonk Heroes, which included such classics as the title track, “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” and “Ride Me Down Easy.” His own solo albums, while never as commercially successful as those of Jennings or others who interpreted the Corsicana, Texas, native’s compositions, are the building blocks of the famed Outlaw Movement.
For Long in the Tooth, Shaver returned to Nashville with a fresh batch of songs. He addresses inequality in the deceptively simple “Checkers and Chess,” the fall of man in the religious imagery of “The Git Go” and pays genuine respect to Nashville in “Music City USA.”
“It was written with Kris Kristofferson in mind,” Shaver says of the track, which romanticizes the journey of aspiring country singers and songwriters. “It’s fun. They are all coming up here to do exactly that. To have fun doing it and then harvest the doggone stuff. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m harvesting. I work really hard and make sure those songs hopefully live forever.”
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