Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lovable Losers and No-Account Boozers and Honky Tonk Heroes...

A hearty Happy Birthday goes out to Billy Joe Shaver today, born in 1939, the Godfather of Outlaw Country music hits the BIG 70!

Who the hell's Billy Joe Shaver, you might ask? Well, let me tell ya what you should already know. Cowboy/redneck poet, Godfather of Outlaw Country, Crazier than a "shit-house rat", he is what he is. Love him or leave him, he don't care, but you'll probably love him.

Turn your speakers up...this is NOT your grandma's country.

"Honky Tonk Heroes"
There's one in every crowd
Fer cryin' out loud
Why was it always turnin' out to be me?

"Georgia on a Fast Train"
I got a good Christian raisin'
And an 8th grade education
Ain't no need in y'all a treatin' me this way

Just to give you a mental picture, pictured below with Willie Nelson back in his clean-cut days, should tell you how long this guy has been writing these songs.

Billy Joe was born in Corsicana, Texas and just like the song says, his mama left him the day before she had him and his Daddy was long gone too, so Billy was raised by his loving Grandmother in what were, economically very wanton conditions. But conditions where he built a strong work-ethic and more importantly, built on an imagination and a talent for hammering words together into true down in the dirt poetry that you can't be taught, you have to be born with.

As a small boy he would go with his Grandma to the general store and see folks listening to songs on the radio...Billy liked to sing, but not owning a radio or any records himself, he never learned the words they were singing. Billy Joe took to making up his own words to the songs he heard, and would stand on the stove in that general store and sing his own songs. A few years later he heard that Homer & Jethro were going to be singing in that same general store, so he walked 10 miles that night to go hear them. Appearing with Homer & Jethro was a young unknown guitar player and singer named Hank Williams. Billy, being a small boy and barefoot, climbed up on that stove again to keep from being trampled by the crowd, remembers Hank singing. Singing, it seemed, right to him. He knew music was something special.

This was of course a silly pipe dream for a poor boy in an even poorer town, so Billy went to work working. At one point, working for a door manufacturing company, he got his right hand caught in the chain drive of a big machine he was operating, and in his panicked struggle to get it out, "yanked" a few of his fingers off.

Let me repeat that..."Yanked" a few of his right hand fingers...OFF.

Billy said to himself something like, "Fuck this...I'm gonna be a songwriter instead." And who wouldn't.

Too much yammering from me...let's hear another song.

"Black Rose"
The Devil made me do it the first time
The second time I done it on my own

Billy bounced back and forth between Texas and Nashville for a little while having slight success here and there. At one time finding himself in a parked bus playing his songs for a bunch of musicians, when Waylon Jennings came out of the back and listened a while, he told Billy that the next time he was in Nashville he wanted to see Billy Joe again so he could sing one of his songs on his next record.

This was at the very birthing of the Outlaw Country movement. It was the early 70's and a younger generation of music fans were fed up (rightly so) at the slick, cheesy, glossy, over-produced sounds that were coming out of Nashville (I refer to it as the time when they replaced the fiddles with violins) and wanted to hear a more real sound and songs more about real life. A few artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and the like, had made the move already, to not play with the slick studio musicians that made everyone sound the same, and to record with their own bands.

Waylon came to town and was making a record, Billy Joe heard about it and showed up at the studio to play Waylon a song to sing. The studio was filled with Waylon's (posse as they'd say nowadays) crowd of musicians, hangers-on, bouncers etc., all partaking in booze, drugs and whatever else they could find and generally having a party. Billy presented himself and Waylon said he didn't remember him and to get out, they were busy. Billy eyed the crowd of thugs, hopped up on whatever, probably packing weapons and there to fiercly defend and protect their meal ticket, Waylon. Looked down and eyed his right hand missing half of it's digits. Remembered Hank Williams staring into his young eyes singing that song right to him like Jesus preaching to a tramp on the street. Then said something like, "I came here to play you one of my songs and if you don't listen I'm going to kick the ass of everyone in here."

Waylon listened to a song to diffuse the situation. Then another. Then another.

Waylon's next record was "Honky Tonk Heroes". 11 tracks, 10 of them written by Billy Joe Shaver. This record along with Willie's "The Red-Headed Stranger", "Wanted: The Outlaws" with Waylon, Willie, Tompall and Jesse Colter and Billy Joe's own "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" are the true cornerstones of Outlaw Country.

Billy Joe eventually put his 13 year old son Eddy to work in his band as lead guitarist, that's him you saw in the above videos.

Billy with his wife and son Eddy.

I could go on for page after page of stories about Billy Joe Shaver and his doings and misdoings. His marriage to the same woman three times. The weird way that every time Billy Joe is on his way to true stardom, everything from his own drinking to a brown recluse spider seem to get in the way. His strained relationship with is son and Eddy's own struggles with drugs. Eddy's fatal heroin overdose. That three-time wife's lost battle with cancer. Both in the same year. Oh yeah, then there was this time about 2 years ago when he "alledgedly" shot a guy in the face for telling him to shut up, then not apologizing fast enough.

But this is a Happy Birthday post. And Billy Joe's songs make you happy. As he says to the crowds at his shows "Jesus loves you when you dance."

Around 1990 or shortly after, when I was first learning to bang on a guitar, I "discovered" Billy Joe Shaver. I introduced him to my friend Will Campbell (more on this guy in future posts...the right Reverend Will...he can marry you or he can bury you) and in our Thursday night garage practice sessions, Billy Joe songs were a big part of the fun we found.

We recaptured that fun yesterday in honor of Billy Joe's big 7-0. A song co-written with his son Eddy.

"Live Forever"
When this old world is blown asunder
And the stars fall from the sky
Remember someone really loves you
We'll live forever you and I

I'll leave you now to discover some Billy Joe Shaver on your own. He writes songs that are about the common every-day man and common every-day experiences and turns them to hillbilly haiku, songs that can make your spirit lift up and sing. He's still out there, still writing, still singing. Still the champion of Cadillac buyers and old five and dimers like me. Letting us know that we may just be an old chunk of coal, but we're gonna shine like diamonds someday.

Here's one more from the master hisself.

"No Fool Like an Old Fool"
For years it seems
My head has been
Just a place to hang my hat

Call him what you like...just don't call him "Dude"!


Anonymous said...

OK, I may be prejudiced, but YOU have the best blog on the net.......matches that head of yours that's filled with so MANY bits of information. Spent years listening and watching you two play and now it's out there for everyone to enjoy!
We're very proud of you, Jeffie! Our dog has GREAT taste in people! (that ought to make people wonder!)
Love ya.....Kate

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm even an old chuck of coal. I may just be one of those clinkers I used to shake out of the old coal space heater we had when your Mom, Dad, Sis and I lived on 13th st. - your brother Bob

Jeff Overturf said...

Clink on brother, even a turd can get a nice sheen on it.

Thanks Kate. Love you and all the times we've spent...more to come!

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