Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Billy Joe Shaver at City Winery

Outlaw country music began in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a gritty honky-tonk alternative to the slick commercialization of Nashville country. Few of its proponents were actually outlaws, however, except for Billy Joe Shaver. From Corsicana, Texas, the country music singer/songwriter made his mark in music with his 1973 album Old Five and Dimers Like Me, but also made his mark with the authorities in 2007 when he shot a man in the face with a handgun outside a tavern in Lorena, Texas. Shaver was acquitted in a Waco court in 2010 after testifying that he acted in self-defense. Nevertheless an accomplished songwriter, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers Band were among the numerous artists who covered his songs. In 2006, Shaver was inducted in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Americana Music Convention awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting. After 41 years of recording his own songs, Shaver finally saw his album on the country charts for the first time with 2014's Long in the Tooth, which featured a duet with Willie Nelson on "Hard To Be An Outlaw." Shaver lives in Waco, Texas.

Billy Joe Shaver nearly died in 2001 when he had a heart attack on stage during a show in New Braunfels, Texas, but at City Winery tonight the 75-year-old survivor showed how alive he was. He performed for two hours, told numerous stories between songs and even danced a hoe down to his music. Admittedly, however, he looked older than his age and his voice was feebler than in his younger days, but his charming joie de vivre gave his songs a sparkle. Shaver's panoramic lyrics conjured standard images of trains, trucks, Texas, bars and broken hearts. Highlights included "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)," a song Johnny Cash recorded that Shaver wrote after he give up drugs and booze and turned to God for help, "Honky Tonk Heroes," the song that launched Waylon Jennings' outlaw image, "Wacko from Waco", a song about the aforementioned shooting incident, "Georgia on a Fast Train", "Tramp on Your Street", "Try and Try Again", "Ragged Old Truck" and "Live Forever," a song that challenges death. The performance lacked pacing, and the lengthy stories and drum solo dragged the show at times, but Shaver will be remembered as a country classic and so was worth a live listen.

Visit Billy Joe Shaver at