Billy Joe Shaver interview: The Lost Tapes

As of last week, country singer Billy Joe Shaver was scheduled to play the Stratford Bar & Grill tonight. Due to various reasons, he's not anymore. However, the interview Roy Kasten did with him is too good not to post. (For more information about Shaver, check out this link here.) Roy's piece starts below.

If Chuck Berry is the poet laureate of rock and roll, Billy Joe Shaver is his country counterpart. Born of the hard work and harder living of the Texas dust, his songs (recorded by everyone from Waylon Jennings to Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash) are archetypes of salvation and damnation, faith and tragedy. Three months ago, he seemed to be caught in some tragic song when he shot a man outside a Lorena, Texas, honky-tonk. In life or art, Shaver has never flinched: He calls it all as he sees it, and he did just that on the phone from his home in Waco, Texas.

B-Sides: It's been a while since you've been to St. Louis.
Billy Joe Shaver: About twenty years ago we played a big hotel for two weeks, and we got into so much trouble, we got kicked out. My boys were so rowdy, it was hard to keep them in line. They sent us to another place and the swimming pool was down, but they had cement packages, and my boys took it upon themselves to dump them in the pool and put a bunch of water in there, and throw a bunch of TVs out the window. So, St. Louis, I don't know if we're welcome there.

I need to get this out of the way: Had you ever shot a man before?
Oh, that. No, I never have. I never have pulled a gun on nobody. I never even thought about it. All of my pistols have never been shot, except that one time. I did point it at him and I did shoot him…That's all I can say about that and that's too much.

How did you feel after that?
I felt lucky, lucky that he didn't shoot me. It was an unfortunate incident and you can't change a thing about it. If you did, I might have got hurt…I'm a sinner, I know that. I never really intend to hurt anybody. If somebody hits me, I'm going to hit them back. I'm that kind of Christian. I'm like [Evander] Holyfield. If they hit you, turn the cheek and knock the hell out of them.

Do you remember when you were saved?
That happened when I wrote "Old Chunk of Coal." It's not about being extra-special or anything. You just start all over again. You can do the same things you did before, but your slate seems to be wiped clean. I was like a baby. I'd hop around telling everybody till they were sick of me. I came off drugs, smoking, drinking, chasing women, catching women. I came off it, cold turkey. I moved my family down to Houston, and boy were they mad. All I could put down was melba toast and diet root beer. I got down to about 150 lbs. When I finished that song, "Old Chunk of Coal," I'd gone out to a cliff. I was going to jump off. I found myself asking God to forgive me, and he did, and he gave me half the song coming down. It's a long story.

Did you have to split royalties with the Lord?
I never thought about that. Jesus Christ has been my manager for some time, and boy is he ever going to cash in!

Your new record, Everybody's Brother, was produced by John Carter Cash, but it has one older song with Johnny Cash and your son Eddy on it.
That one song, "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ," that was a demo session. Johnny Cash was a big time fan of mine, he came in, and that was just a one take affair. Johnny says my name in there, and I didn't go back and sing it. It was good enough. It was such a blessing to be doing this with John Carter. I've known him since he was born and he knows me better than I know myself. He told me, "You owe this to the Lord."

How do you get the songs down? How do you remember them?
It's always different. When I finally get moved, I sit right down and do it. There's no telling how long they roll around in your head. It's not like a computer. Your heart's involved. I'll sit down and right a song in five minutes. People say, "My God, why don't you do that all the time?" Well, it probably took me two or three years to come up with that.

Annie Zaleski


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