Services set for Central Texas outlaw country music pioneer who died at 81

Billy Joe Shaver, the Central Texas native who helped define outlaw country music, died...
Billy Joe Shaver, the Central Texas native who helped define outlaw country music, died Wednesday at the age of 81. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)(KWTX)
Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 10:59 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2020 at 4:07 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Services have been scheduled for Billy Joe Shaver, the Central Texas native who helped define outlaw country music.

Shaver died Wednesday in a Waco hospital at the age of 81.

Visitation, which is open to the public, will be from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Waco Memorial Funeral Home at 7537 South Interstate 35 in Robinson.

A funeral service, also open to the public, begins at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.

Shaver, who recently underwent hip replacement surgery, suffered a major stroke Tuesday morning, his longtime guitarist, Jeremy Woodall, said.

He was taken off life support Wednesday morning, Woodall said, and died just after noon.

Shaver was born on Aug. 16, 1939 in Corsicana.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 and after he was discharged worked at a series of jobs and took a shot at becoming a rodeo cowboy.

While working at a lumber mill, he lost most of two fingers in an accident and developed a serious infection, from which he later recovered.

He taught himself to play guitar without the two fingers.

He and his first wife, Brenda, whom he divorced and remarried several times, had a son, John Edwin, known as Eddy, who was born in 1962.

Eddy Shaver mastered the guitar at an early age and accompanied not only his father, but also such greats as Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Dwight Yoakum.

He died in December 2000 of a drug overdose at the age of 38.

Brenda died of cancer in 1999.

In the 1970s Shaver helped define outlaw country and he recorded more than a dozen albums and wrote songs for such artists as Willie Nelson and Patty Loveless.

“Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” and “Live Forever," are among the classics for which he’ll be remembered.

He was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1999 and in 2006 he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 2007 he was nominated for a Grammy Award in the best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album category for “Everybody’s Brother,”, but lost out to Ricky Skaggs and The Whites, whose “Salt of the Earth” won the honors.

Shaver was acquitted in April 2010 in a Waco courtroom of aggravated assault charges stemming from a shooting in March 2007 on the back patio of Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon in Lorena.

Jurors decided he acted in self-defense

Friends Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall showed up during the trial to support him.

Billy Joe Shaver with Gordon Collier.
Billy Joe Shaver with Gordon Collier.(Gordon Collier)

There are a lot of ways I could describe Billy Joe Shaver. He wasn’t the most well-known but he was one of the original outlaws of country music.

Although he was born in Corsicana, he always said he was a Waco native.

He fought his way out of poverty, growing up in Central Texas, he fought his way (literally) into the country music scene and he fought his way through 81 years of hard scrabble living.

His fight ended today and the world has lost a bit of its shine.

Billy had hip surgery recently and that was followed by a minor stroke. He never recovered after suffering a second and more devastating stroke on Tuesday. He died peacefully Wednesday at Ascension Providence Hospital in Waco.

I first met Billy Joe at a birthday party in Austin. It was his 65th birthday and a who’s who of Billy’s running buddies showed up to celebrate at the Paramount Theatre. That’s where I met the legendary Guy Clark and actor Robert Duvall.

To be honest, at first I was terrified of him. He had this tough as nails, no BS demeanor about him and piercing blue eyes that seemed to cut right through your soul. It didn’t take long to realize that beneath his tough exterior beat a heart of gold.

To say that Billy lived a colorful life would be an understatement. Billy would tell stories and no matter how outlandish they seemed, I would always find some verification.

My favorite story of his was how he sneaked out of his grandmother’s house in Waco to see Hank Williams, Sr. perform. He was just a kid and had to climb up a pole for a better view. He said he felt like Hank was looking right at him the whole time.

He said he got a beating when he got home but it was well worth it.

That story is featured in his song “Tramp on your Street.” You have to respect a song writer who writes from the heart like Billy. Three chords and the truth. That’s what you got with Billy Joe Shaver.

He wasn’t perfect. The shooting incident at a club in Lorena in 2007 is an example of times when his life may have bent a little out of control. Since then I believe Billy lived as righteously as he could. You couldn’t have a conversation with Billy without him mentioning his Lord and Savior. I find some comfort knowing that he’s rejoining his beloved wife Brenda and son Eddy in the afterlife. He and Jerry Jeff must be putting on quite a show. I find it so hard to believe that he’s gone but just like the songs he left behind him, he’s gonna live forever now.

(Rissa Shaw contributed to this story)

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