Whitey Shafer, the songwriter of numerous hits for George Strait, Lefty Frizzell, Moe Bandy and others, died on Saturday following a long illness, family friend Corey Frizzell has confirmed. He was 84.
Born Sanger D. Shafer on October 24th, 1934, in Whitney, Texas, Shafer grew up in a gospel-singing family but didn’t write his first song until he was 30 years old. The nickname “Whitey” was bestowed on him during high school when he was employed by a local ironworking company. Following a stint in the Army and a series of jobs that included working on a turkey farm, Shafer moved to Nashville in 1967 to pursue his musical career. He signed a publishing agreement with Blue Crest Music and put out a handful of singles with RCA Records and Musicor Records between 1968 and 1969. As a writer, he scored cuts with George Jones (“Between My House and Home” and “I’m a New Man in Town”), who garnered a Number 13 hit with Shafer and Dallas Frazier’s “Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong” in 1970. Shafer would later move to the famed Acuff-Rose publishing company in the early Seventies.
Shafer’s biggest songwriting successes came after befriending Lefty Frizzell, who recorded and released “You, Babe” as a single in 1972. Shafer and Frizzell co-wrote “That’s the Way Love Goes,” a Number One hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1974 as well as for Merle Haggard in 1983. They struck again with “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” a Top 25 hit for Frizzell that was re-recorded by Haggard and Keith Whitley. In 1975, shortly before Frizzell’s death, Moe Bandy released Shafer and Frizzell’s “Bandy the Rodeo Clown,” which went on to become a Top 10 hit.
In the Eighties, Shafer had a hand in writing a pair of George Strait’s most iconic hits. “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” penned with Shafer’s then-wife Darlene, was a Number One hit from Strait’s album of the same name and a 1985 CMA Song of the Year nominee. With his fourth wife Lyndia, Shafer wrote the smirking “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” which Strait recorded for Ocean Front Property and took to Number One in 1987. It was also nominated for CMA Song of the Year in 1987, and a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. Shafer would later give his own performance of the song for the soundtrack to the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
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In 1989, Keith Whitley recorded Shafer’s “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” as the lead single and title track from his third album, earning Shafer yet another Number One. That same year, Shafer was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He continued scoring cuts through the 1990s, with artists such as Joe Diffie, Kenny Chesney and John Michael Montgomery recording his songs for their albums.
Shafer began to struggle with his health in the 2010s, having developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Artists and songwriters held multiple benefits to help offset the costs of Shafer’s medical care, with Jerrod Niemann, Daryle Singletary, Dallas Davidson and Lee Roy Parnell turning up for a 2014 event produced by Corey Frizzell and then Moe Bandy overseeing a 2015 show that included Rhonda Vincent, Mark Wills, Gene Watson and John Conlee.
“He was on everyone’s top list of the greatest classic songwriters — great singers like Merle Haggard, George Strait, Keith Whitley and Lee Ann Womack often got to the top singing one of his iconic hits,” says fellow Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Pat Alger. “Whitey’s songs always had the perfect combination of a great melody paired with a unique point of view and a twist that was unmistakably his. I had the privilege of producing two tracks on him as a singer for a George Strait tribute CD, and his playful and earnest vocals were a roadmap for anyone wanting to find their way into country music at its best.”