It’s been a sad week for outlaw country; two days following the death of “Mr. Bojangles” songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, a songwriter for Waylan Jennings’ 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes , has passed away at the age of 81. According to Rolling Stone, Shaver passed away in Waco, Texas following a stroke. His passing was mourned by musicians such as Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees.
RIP Mr Shaver pic.twitter.com/TnV9sACDYc
— mark lanegan (@marklanegan) October 28, 2020
Shaver was born in Coriscana, Texas, back in 1939, where he was raised by his mother, who he would end up accompanying to her job at a local nightclub. These early experiences helped expose him to country music, and by the early 1960s he moved to Houston where he frequented a club called the Old Quarter. During his time in Houston he met Townes Van Zandt, which eventually led him to Nashville, where he became an apprentice for songwriter Harlan Howard before working for singer-songwriter Bobby Bare.
“Billy Joe was already there before anybody was talking about an outlaw movement,” Steve Earle reportedly stated in 2010. “And I come from the generation that moved to Nashville because people started talking about an outlaw movement.”
Shaver’s career in Nashville began with an uneasy start, but he caught the attention of Jennings in the early 1070s, and wound up recording 10 out of the 11 songs on Honky Tonk Heroes. Despite the record being considered a landmark for outlaw country, Shaver was never able to achieve the same success for his own solo career.
Despite his lack of notoriety, Shaver continued to play music until his death, and released a number of notable tracks such as “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” and “Live Forever.” He has had his songs covered by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, while Willie Nelson called him “the greatest living songwriter” a decade ago.