Billy Joe Shaver turned 80 on Friday. He’s had some health problems, and he doesn’t have any shows scheduled at the moment, but I just saw him in 2016 at Floore’s Country Store and he was still alive and kicking. Like Rodney Crowell, Shaver was one of those young Nashville songwriters from Texas who were so integral to the outlaw country movement. He wrote almost all of Waylon Jennings’ landmark outlaw country album Honky Tonk Heroes, and his album Old Five and Dimers Like Me is a landmark outlaw country album in its own right.
Shaver has a deep discography. I’ve always been partial to Georgia on a Fast Train, originally recorded on Old Five and Dimers Like Me and much later included on Tramp On Your Street. I mean, this is basically my philosophy of life right here:
“I’ve been to Georgia on a fast train honey
I wasn’t born no yesterday
Got a good Christian raising and an eighth grade education
Ain’t no need in y’all a treating me this way”
I mean, sure, I have many years of education past the eight, but those were largely superfluous. And on a scale of evangelicalism from “no sex standing up because it might lead to dancing” to “God loves you when you dance,” I am firmly on the “God loves you when you dance” end of the scale. (A reference likely to be lost on you, since the “God loves you when you dance” line only appears on the version on his greatest hits album and I couldn’t find that version on YouTube.)
Georgia on a Fast Train
Shaver also walked out of central casting for “outlaw country artist,” from his big and ugly look to mangling his hand in a job at a lumber mill but teaching himself to play guitar that way to losing his son and guitarist to a heroin overdose. He infamously confronted Waylon over recording his songs (it obviously worked out). Most infamously, though, he shot a man in the face who pulled a knife on him outside a bar, but only after Shaver asked the man, “Where do you want it?” (he argued he acted in self-defense and was acquitted of charges). Dale Watson wrote a song about the incident, and the Whitey Morgan version is below.
Where Do You Want It?
Jim Cornelius on Billy Joe Shaver at Frontier Partisans.
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