Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

SHAVER, Billy Joe

(b 15 September 1941, Corsicana TX) Country singer-songwriter. The family moved to Waco '53; he worked as a bronc buster, in a sawmill (losing fingers in an accident), served in US Navy, made his first trip to Nashville with his songs early '60s; several trips later he signed as a writer with Bobby Bare's Return Music. Kris Kristofferson recorded his 'Good Christian Soldier' '71 and he soon had other songs recorded by Tom T. Hall, Jan Howard, Dottie West, Jerry Lee Lewis. He recorded for Mercury '72, then Monument, where Kristofferson produced the album Old Five And Dimers Like Me '74, Capricorn (When I Get My Wings '76, Gypsy Boy '77), Columbia (I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal '81): his coarse, grating voice was ideal for his songs, but not for smooth country radio, which didn't play his records, although he achieved some prominence in the Outlaw movement mid-'70s with discerning fans, and was regarded by many as one of the best songwriters working. In later years other songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, George Jones; the title track of the Columbia album was a no. 1 hit for John Anderson. 

Salt Of The Earth '87 was a long overdue second album for Columbia, all his own songs, featuring his son Eddy, a blues-based lead guitarist; they toured together as Shaver, their acclaimed albums including Tramp On Your Street '93, Unshaven '95, Highway Of Life '96 on Zoo/Praxis. His earlier tracks were reissued on CD on Bear Family (as Honky Tonk Heroes) and Koch International; Restless Wind on Razor and Tie selected '73-82 tracks. In 2014 he had released nearly 20 albums; Long In The Tooth was the latest. He had signed very bad contracts and didn't make as much money as he should have from all his hits, but finally Brent and Wes McBride, brothers who'd started Copyright Recapture in Nashville, were helping him get some of his ownership back.

Shavers had married two women three times each ("The divorces didn't seem to work out," he said). Eddy had become an excellent musician, learning much of his technique from Dickie Betts, a friend of Billy Joe's; Eddy was heard on albums by Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakam and others. Victory, on New West Records, was virtually a gospel album by the duo Shaver, a tribute to Billy Joe's mother Victory and Eddy's mother Brenda. The Shaver women died of cancer a month apart in 1999. Then Eddy (b John Edwin Shaver, 20 June 1962; d 31 December 2000) lost a long struggle with drugs. That New Year's Eve Billy Joe climbed on stage as scheduled, as his friend Willie Nelson, who himself had lost a son, led a tribute to Eddy.