Billy Joe Shaver was one of the artists who defined the outlaw-country music genre in the late ’60s and early ’70s. However, there’s much more to him than that.
Shaver, 76, who in 2014 released a critically and commercially successful album called Long in the Tooth, will be appearing at Stagecoach on Friday, April 29.
During a recent phone interview, I asked Shaver if there was something—beyond the legends and the music—that people don’t know about him. The answer was surprising.
“I’m a born-again Christian,” Shaver said. “I try to be like Jesus every day, but people don’t realize that my being born again is a lot different. I got born again in my own fill, and everyone has their own personal savior; mine is Jesus Christ. I feel like you get to be born again your own way. I get to be myself, and I’m still myself, but all those past sins and all that stuff is wiped clean. I got to start over again since I was born again—and I actually wondered if I could get born again again. You can do the same things you did before, but you have to be held accountable for it.”
The term “Outlaw” has often been used to describe Shaver’s brand of country. There’s also a bit of reality in that term: In April 2007, he was charged with aggravated assault in Lorena, Texas, after he shot a man in the face. Shaver said he was acting in self-defense.
“That doesn’t bother me, and it was part of my life,” Shaver explained. “I can’t deny that or anything, really. … I never actually tried to hurt anyone. But if someone tries to hurt me, I’m going to hurt them back. I’m still that way. If someone shoots at me, I’ll shoot back at them. If they hit me, I’ll hit them back, but I’ll let them throw the first punch.”
Before Shaver found fame in country music, he worked at a sawmill and accidentally cut off two of his fingers. He said the accident helped him realize his calling in life.
“It was really hard for me,” he said. “I had learned how to strum and chord, and I had written a few songs. When that happened, I was 21, and I just shot a quick prayer to God and said, ‘If you help me get out of this mess, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do.’ I always knew this is what I was supposed to be doing.”
While he has performed there, Billy Joe Shaver is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Considering his history and his contributions to country music, he feels he should be.
“I think I should be in there,” he said. “One day, I know I will be in there. I think they’ll wait until the day I die, because they say I’m unmanageable. I’m really not; I just speak up. That’s all.”
If there’s one thing for which the current generation knows Billy Joe Shaver, it’s for singing the opening themes of the Adult Swim animated series Squidbillies. He praised creators Jim Fortier, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro for their creativity.
“Those guys are geniuses,” he said. “I had no idea earlier that (the show) was going to be so mean. I probably would have done it anyway, though. … They kind of fooled me a bit, because I went to this church in Austin, and they had me sing the theme song.
“Those guys are real geniuses. But I don’t mean any of those things in the song, and I wouldn’t really do that. I got to laugh at it a lot, though, in the end.”
Shaver is no stranger to Stagecoach; he’s played at the festival before. Still, when I asked him about the festival, he said he was not too familiar with it—but he mentioned his love for everything about California.
“I don’t know too much about it,” he said about Stagecoach. “My boys do, but I just jump in the truck and go. That’s about it for me. That’ll be a lot of fun, though.”