By Tiffany Walker
(LSM Oct/Nov 2014/vol. 7 – Issue 5)
Billy Joe Shaver may still consider himself just an “old chunk of coal,” but the quality of artists who turned out to pay tribute to the old five-and-dimer for his 75th birthday celebration at Austin’s Paramount Theater on Sept. 24 proves that the songs he’s spun are already as treasured as the most precious diamonds.
As fellow outlaw troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard observed, the consistent factor in the progressive country movement was, and is, Shaver writing great songs that songwriters should study. Following that lead, relative newcomer Jason Eady admitted that when he writes a new song, he asks himself, “Would I play this for Billy Joe?”
In addition to Hubbard and Eady, other artists on hand to salute the great outlaw poet (who was born Aug. 16, 1939 in Corscicana, Texas) were fellow Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee (or, as Shaver allegedly put it, “indictee”) Joe Ely, who masterfully covered Shaver’s “Live Forever,” and Crooks, a young, bearded-and-braided Austin band whose rollicking horn section and back-bending accordion player had folks at the Paramount dancing in the aisles. James McMurtry claimed that his newest (yet to be released) song was “the most Billy Joe Shaver song I’ve ever written because I wrote it when I was a little drunk and a whole lot pissed off.” In the introduction to his stunning a cappella version of Shaver’s “Star in my Heart,” Joe Pug said, “If you are listening Mr. Shaver, I practiced real hard.”
Shaver himself, who played, prayed and proselytized his way through the second set, was indeed listening and was clearly touched by the efforts. “I love all these guys who were up here playing all my songs by heart,” he enthused. “I don’t know, maybe I’m in Heaven!