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Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver (1939–2020), legendary outlaw country songwriter

by Kirk Fox

Billy Joe Shaver was a legendary outlaw country singer-songwriter whose songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings.  

  • Died: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 (Who else died on October 28?)  
  • Details of death: Died from a stroke at the age of 81, confirmed to Rolling Stone by his friend Connie Nelson.
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Outlaw country legend 

Shaver was a Texas native who made his way to Nashville to further his country music career. While he had some trouble making a name for himself as a performer, he found success as a pioneering outlaw country songwriter. One of his songs was recorded by Kris Kristofferson. Shaver was at a Willie Nelson picnic when he met Waylon Jennings, who heard him singing one of his songs and asked if he had more. Shaver would write most of the songs on Jennings’ seminal 1973 outlaw country album “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Shaver released many albums of his own, toured, and wrote songs recorded by Elvis Presley, his friend Willie Nelson, and David Allan Coe.

Hard-living life 

Shaver lived a life like one of his outlaw country songs. He lost two fingers on his right hand in a sawmill accident and then taught himself to play the guitar. He lost his wife Brenda to cancer in 1999 and then his son Eddy from a drug overdose the following year.

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Eddy was a talented guitar player who often played with his dad. The day he died — New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2000 — Shaver was scheduled to play a concert. Shaver’s band were too upset to play, but his friend Nelson talked Shaver into performing the show. 

“Willie put a band together,” Shaver told Rolling Stone. “My band just went nuts, they all flaked out and went off crying and stuff. But Willie called me up…and said, ‘Billy, you gotta get back on the horse.’ And I’m an old cowboy, I know what he’s talking about. So I got up there.”

In 2007, Shaver shot a man outside a bar in Texas and claimed self-defense. When the case went to trial, friends Nelson and Robert Duvall testified on his behalf. He was found not guilty.

Tributes to Billy Joe Shaver

Full Obituary: Rolling Stone

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