Billy Joe Shaver: "I'm More Like Outcast Country"
At 73, Billy Joe Shaver has lived a tough, fascinating life and managed to release nearly 20 albums of stellar hardcore country. We checked in with Shaver from an antique store in Waco, and he told us about his propensity for finding trouble. Catch him tonight at the Kessler Theater with Houston's Robert Ellis.
You live in Waco, but do you ever make it back to your hometown of Corsicana?
Sometimes, I like to go back there and look at stuff. But it's still dry there and that can be a problem. I reckon that's why I don't go back too often. I don't know. But all around that area is wet. It is surrounded with clubs. You don't have to drive very far to get what you want, but it's just not there in town. It's kind of silly, but I guess they know what they are doing.
Waco's not dry, is it?
No, not by any means.
What do you do in Waco? Back in the day, the only thing the place was famous for was banning dancing.
I guess you can do as much as you can scare up. People go to the movies and church. There are plenty of churches. There's plenty of places to eat and stuff like that. There are some small places to drink, places to get in trouble if you want to. Sometimes, you can get into trouble when you don't want to.
You're turning 73 in August. Hopefully you're not getting in too much trouble.
No, I don't. I don't want to get into trouble. Most of the time, it leaves me alone. Sometimes I go to the wrong places and get in a little trouble. A lot of people are just waiting for someone like me to come in so they might start something and then sue me. That's just the way it is.
You have a new live album coming out and one of the new songs is called "Wacko from Waco." Are there a lot of wackos in Waco?
There's only one. It's just about the shooting that took place out there in Lorena. I wanted to set things straight. You can listen to the song and hear what it's all about. I told the truth and there it is. In the court, they were trying to railroad me a little bit.
Dale Watson wrote a song ["Where Do You Want It"] about the incident as well.
Yes, he wrote that song about a day after I had done the dang thing. We are friends. He called me up and asked me if he could write a song about it. I told him that it hadn't been a day since it happened. But he is a good singer and I told him that if anyone was going to write about it, it might as well be him. I trust him to write a good song. I haven't listened to all of it. It's a good song, but it is not at all what I said. I never said where do you want it. Hell, the prosecution used the song against me. I didn't say that. I didn't want to shoot the guy. I was just trying to keep him from shooting me. That's the way it goes.
Have you seen the 2004 documentary about you, A Portrait of Billy Joe?
Yes, I've seen that. Luciana Pedraza did that movie. She's married to Robert Duvall. She did that several years ago.
You were in the film The Apostle with Duvall.
That's a good movie. Robert is as nice as he can be and so is his wife. They both stuck their necks out for me. I didn't have to do much of nothing. I just had to be myself. That's what Robert told me to do. He told me, "Every chance you get, don't act." So, I did that.
You are also good friends with Kinky Friedman. During his campaign for Governor, you were listed as his spiritual advisor. What does that entail?
I gave him some bumper sticker things to say. Stuff like, "If you don't love Jesus, you can go to hell" and "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." We are real good friends.
Why didn't he win the election?
I think if the election were today, he would win. The timing was wrong. I don't know what's up with our Governor. I don't think he really wanted to run for President. He got out of it quickly.
You were one of the first artists to be described as outlaw country. Where did that term come from?
I'm more like outcast country. It's hard to be an outlaw when you are not wanted anymore. We were not so much outlaws as we were outcasts. No one really wanted to have much to do with me or Waylon [Jennings] or any of the rest of them. Then we put out Honky Tonk Heroes and people started paying attention.
Your 1973 album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me, is often cited as your best effort. Did it feel different making that album?
Those sessions meant a lot to me. That album pretty much made my reputation. I think everybody and his brother knows about that record. When I was young, my grandmother exposed me to country music, but I liked to go across the tracks and play the blues. One of the porches had a piano on it and we would go over and play. We didn't get into any trouble. We would play Jimmie Rodgers songs. We were listening to Willie Dixon and I still think he is the greatest songwriter ever. I once got compared to him and I thought it was a joke. He was so much better.
You early life was fairly chaotic in that you quit school after 8th grade and joined the navy at 17.
I was really just 16, about to turn 17. My grandparents signed and gave me permission to go. I was happy to leave and they were happy to see me leave. I was in the navy for three years, but then I got in trouble for hitting an officer. But I didn't know who he was. He was not in uniform. They put me in the brig for six months before they finally figured everything out and I was exonerated.
Bill Joe Shaver performs with Robert Ellis tonight, June 29, at the Kessler Theater.