Billy Joe Shaver, the outlaw-country music pioneer who wrote some of the genre’s greatest songs, died Wednesday in Waco, Texas, after suffering a stroke. He was 81. Connie Nelson, a friend of Shaver’s, confirmed his death to Rolling Stone.
“Billy Joe Shaver is among the greatest troubadours in American music history,” said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “He spoke in poetry, and he lived his life like he wrote his songs, with poignant hilarity, chuckling sadness, and the wisdom of a dust-bitten sage. Most every line he wrote rings with truth and beauty, but the one I’m thinking of today is, ‘You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.’”
“Having been a longtime friend and fan of Billy Joe Shaver’s there was so much about him to love and enjoy. He was a great singer, songwriter and performer and, above all, a great storyteller. He will be missed.” – Billy F Gibbons of ZZ Top
“October 28th, I lost one of my greatest songwriting friends, Billy Joe Shaver. It’s a sad day and I’m just so torn between raising hell and lowering heaven a little bit. I felt it all the way from Nashville to Waco when he passed. I just go from looking back on our wonderful memories together to tears, then back to memories again. I have a lot to say about Billy Joe Shaver. He’s written so many songs, and I’m so glad I got to write a few of them with him. The whole songwriting community has suffered a huge loss today and most importantly the fans of country music. Billy was one of a kind, he wasn’t like anyone else. When he loved, he loved hard and I loved him right back. I just can’t find the words right now. Billy, he never had any trouble finding the right words when it came to a song, he was a master. Billy’s on his way to heaven and I’m just so glad I got to spend some of his life and some of my life together.
I miss you already, my friend. Adios.” – Tanya Tucker
Shaver’s debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973), contained many songs noted for being performed by other artists such as David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings. When I Get My Wings (1976) included “Ain’t No God In Mexico” (also a hit for Waylon Jennings). Gypsy Boy (1977) included “Honky Tonk Heroes” and “You Asked Me To”.
Shaver is also known for his hit “Live Forever”, co-written by his son Eddy; Robert Duvall performs it in the movie Crazy Heart and it is included in the soundtrack. The song was also performed by The Highwaymen and Joe Ely. Shaver also wrote numerous songs for artists such as Patty Loveless and Willie Nelson.
Shaver continued to release records throughout the 1980s and 1990s; the most notable was the critically acclaimed Tramp On Your Street, released in 1993, which prominently featured the guitar playing of Eddy Shaver.
Shaver’s 2007 album country gospel style Everybody’s Brother was Grammy-nominated. Many of the songs are duets with artists such as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Tanya Tucker. Musicians playing on the album included Randy Scruggs, Laura Cash and Marty Stuart.
On May 22, 2014, Rolling Stone premiered the single-duet with Willie Nelson “Hard To Be An Outlaw”.The album, Long in the Tooth was released on August 5, 2014 by Lightning Rod Records. After a 41-year career, Long in the Tooth became Billy Joe Shaver’s first album to chart in Billboard’s Top Country Albums, entering the chart at 19. The album also entered the Billboard 200, peaking at 157.
In 2019, Shaver received the Poet’s Award from the Academy of Country Music to honor his achievements in songwriting.