Country songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver, who had his songs recorded by fellow icons of the genre such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley, has died aged 81 on Wednesday following an unspecified illness, a spokesperson has confirmed.
Shaver was born in Corsicana, Texas, on August 28th, 1939, and was raised by his grandmother. He then left home at 16 to serve in the Navy and did whatever he could do make rent, a situation which led to him working at a rodeo and at the sawmill where the loss of his digits pushed him toward trying songwriting. Shaver later hitchhiked to Nashville to chase his dream in 1965 and he then got his first big break in 1968 when he walked into singer Bobby Bare’s office and managed to land a $50-a-week gig that would be the first step to him becoming a star of Nashville.
He soon gained a great reputation across music and began writing songs with Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, The Allman Brothers and Elvis Presley. His break-out moment came when Jennings invited Shaver to Nashville to work on what became his 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes, which made Shaver a national name rather than a local legend.
Shaver was the recipient of the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting from the Americana Music Association in 2002, he was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 as well as the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. That said, none of the awards mean anything in comparison to Johnny Cash once labelling Shaver as “my favourite songwriter,” and Willie Nelson saying that he was “definitely the best writer in Texas… Everything he writes is just poetry.”
“Having been a longtime friend and fan of Billy Joe Shaver’s, there was so much about him to love and enjoy,” ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons said to Billboard. “He was a great singer, songwriter and performer and, above all, a great storyteller. He will be missed.”
Meanwhile, Jason Isbell took to social media to passionately post that “Billy Joe Shaver might’ve been the only true outlaw who ever made his living writing about the inner workings of his heart.” He then labelled Shaver as being “the realest of them all.”
Listen to Shaver’s wonderful track ‘How To Be An Outlaw’ which features Willie Nelson, below.