Billy Joe Shaver is a diamond. A rough one, to be sure; no “Marquise cut” here. But a diamond, nevertheless. Playing music since the age of eight, the plainspoken Texan became a songwriter exemplar, receiving accolades (and cover versions) from peers like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and legions more. He has also lived a life with more twists and turns than a Mexican telenovela.
While some may pad their resume with exaggerated tales of bravado, Mr. Shaver has no need to do so. The unvarnished truth of his life story comes through in his songs which are direct, emotional, and honest, brutally so at times. Touring in support of his excellent new album, Long in the Tooth, we spoke with Shaver about his career, his Texas heritage, and what lies ahead.
So, you are currently a resident of Waco, Texas?
Yes, I’m the “Wacko from Waco.”
I was born just south of there in Killeen…
(Immediately) Well, I wouldn’t brag about it too much (laughter). Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s a nice spot. A lot of crazy things happen down here.
Well, speaking of crazy, how did Todd Snider convince you to come to Nashville and make a record?
(More laughter) He has the ability to light a fire under me. What he does is pick on me until he gets me mad and then I’ll do it.
He must have made you really mad because this is a great record.
Yeah, it’s a great record, it really is. I like it. I had been planning on making another one but I was waiting for Ray Kennedy to come loose. Finally, he did and I went over to Ray’s studio with Todd and did some demo-type things. It worked out pretty good but not as good as the final version with Ray and Gary Nicholson.
All Todd was interested in was getting me back into recording again. I was doing alright just playing (live). We had built up a big fan base because I play a lot, I always have. It didn’t show up until this record came out and then people started writing me up everywhere I went. As opposed to a young songwriter, it’s easy for them to talk to me because I’ve been around so long and there’s so much to talk about. The new guys, all they’ve got to talk about is their new record and that’s about it. A lot them are so young they don’t have much to say yet.