"Got a pick-up full of good gasoline/ got a whatyacall like you ain't ever seen/ I'm a pistol packin' papa with a million dollar smile/ I'm fit to kill and going out in style." Fit To Kill And Going Out In Style - Billy Joe Shaver.

Billy Joe Shaver - Texas
Photo by Carol Taylor
It was late at night at Willie Nelson's July 4 Picnic last year at the historic Stockyards in Fort Worth (Cowtown) and Billy Joe Shaver has just finished a sizzling set.

The singing actor strode through the on stage audience, who outnumbered those in the mosh pit, and threw his arms around a 10 year-old who had been pushed forward.

Shaver, now, 67, didn't know the boy but realised he was a true fan to be up that late and that close.

Especially as the singer was dripping with perspiration in the crushing humidity after wild applause for him and his hot young band featuring a bonus cameo by Shooter Jennings - son of Billy Joe's late mentor Waylon.

Shooter, with three albums under his belt and a role as his dad in Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line, was also hot - as an artist in his own right.

Billy Joe may have cast his mind way back to another night just like this just 56 years earlier when he was 10 and shimmied up a pole to catch a glimpse of Hank Williams.

Shaver had run away from his home near Corsicana and followed 10 miles of railroad track to the concert headlined by country comedians Homer & Jethro.

Hank, just 26 and not the headliner, spotted young Billy Joe and eyeballed him as he sang.

That flashback was forever etched in Shaver's memory bank - long after that humid Texas night.

But that was then and this was July 4, 2006 and Shaver was stunned to learn that his young fan had travelled further - from the leafy Melbourne suburb of East Burwood - to catch him and peers perform.


Not only that but Billy Joe met his mother - a videographer and photo-journalist - on his 2002 Australian tour with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman.

The singer offered to do a concert for his new fan a little closer to his home with one condition - if a return Australian tour - Shaver's fourth - could be organised.

We visited Carl's Corner to film a Nu Country TV and magazine interviews with The Kinkster who was standing against Republican incumbent Rick Perry for Governor Of Texas.

Kinky with Jordan Taylor
Photo by Carol Taylor

Kinky employed Billy Joe in an honorary capacity as his "spiritual adviser" during the Gubernatorial campaign.

Associate producer Carol Taylor filmed the interview in The Kinkster's campaign bus that doubled as a Gibson Guitars beacon.

She also filmed and photographed a vast galaxy of artists diverse as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Johnny Bush, Heather Myles, David Allan Coe, Asleep At The Wheel, Pauline Reese, Kris Kristofferson and mine host Willie.

There was also the next generation - Django Walker (son of Jerry Jeff) and Walk The Line singing actor Waylon Payne - son of Shotgun Willie's long time guitarist Jody and recently deceased star Sammi Smith.

Sammi, who died at 61 on February 12, 2005, had the first hit with Kris classic Help Make It Through The Night.

Smith and Payne named their son - a prolific songwriter, singer and actor - after their mate Waylon.

Jennings was the godfather of Waylon Payne and often shared stages with Jody Payne on Willie Nelson concerts.

Payne released his solo debut album The Drifter on Universal in 2004.

He also starred with Kristofferson in the Stacy Dean Campbell produced video clip of the title track of Kacey Jones acclaimed San Francisco Mabel Joy tribute disc to late Texan legend Mickey Newbury.

But I digress again.


So on my return to the unlucky radio country I passed on Shaver's offer to Ringwood promoter Rob Hall - benefactor on his previous visit.

Hall began investigating a joint tour here by Shaver and fellow troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard - a latter day Texas Hill Country neighbour of Kevin Welch, now making his eighth Australian visit for him.

Welch had suggested the Ray Wylie tour to Hall about three years ago and Hall soon contacted the singer through his wife Judy at their Wimberley home.
< Ray Wylie Hubbard
- photo by Carol Taylor

I accelerated the procedure with follow-up emails to Mrs Hubbard whose son Lucas, 14, played guitar in his dad's band at Willie's July 3 and 4 picnics at Carl's Corner and Fort Worth.

Some of Lucas's little mates also tossed a Texas Longhorns gridiron ball, bought by Billy Joe's Aussie admirer in Austin, at Carl's Corner the night before.

Carl's Corner, for trivia buffs, is the HQ of Willie Nelson's alternate fuel empire Bio-Willie.

Ironically, Willie won the site in a poker game and tossed it back on the condition it house his bio-diesel HQ and be a site for regular country music festivals.

But I digress again.

I interviewed Ray Wylie, now 60, on previous U.S. trips in 1978 and 1983, in Austin and Nashville, and he was well aware of his local following.

Sydney country band Moose Malone recorded his tune West Texas Country Western Dance Band in 1976 on their RCA album.

And former Nu Country FM DJ Nipper Mack had supported Hubbard at a gig in Forth Worth late last year with his duo Very Handsome Men.

Hubbard, born in Hugo, Oklahoma, and still performing oft-recorded theme song Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother by popular demand, was promoting his 14th album Snake Farm on Austin label Sustain Records.

Hall believed the ideal time for a joint Australian tour by Shaver and Hubbard was the autumn of 2008.

With an early Easter in 2008 the time gap narrowed between the Port Fairy and Byron Bay folk and blues festivals with Brunswick and Blue Mountains roots sojourns also in between.


"Got a Stetson and some brand new blue jeans/ got a wad of bills that would choke a whoopin' crane/ I come from Waco, Texas, and I've been around this world/ I tell you boys I'm getting high and wide." - Fit To Kill And Going Out In Style - Billy Joe Shaver.

But about 8.30 p m last Saturday outside Papa Joe's Texas Saloon at Lorena - on the north side of Waco off Interstate 35, 89 miles north of Austin - those plans may have gone went up in smoke.

Shaver and second wife Wanda, whom he wed twice, were leaving the saloon when a drunken man reportedly produced a knife.

There was a puff from a Saturday night special, allegedly brandished by Shaver, and another puffing Billy - Billy Bryant Coker, 50, was rushed to the Hillcrest Baptist hospital with a wound in his cheek.

Billy Joe, who allegedly didn't turn the other cheek, rapidly decamped from the scene in a pick-up truck and this drama moved into its second stanza as the Baptists patched up their impatient patient.

Arrest warrants were sworn out two days later for Shaver who had already hired Joe Turner - an Austin lawyer whose diverse clients included Shotgun Willie Nelson and actor Matthew McConaughey.
< sign on Gruene Hall - photo by Carol Taylor

I'm not sure if Turner provided the legal advice for marijuana possession charges to be dismissed against Willie when he was busted while snoozing in his Mercedes in a wayside stop on I 35 on May 10, 1994 - also outside Waco at Hewitt.

Willie was cleared of the charges after the court ruled it was an illegal search of a car by a senior citizen who was obeying road rules by having a power nap.

But I'm sure he provided legal advice when Willie and elder sister Bobbie, 75, and three other Honeysuckle Rose passengers were busted with a stash of the herb superb and acid after doing a benefit concert in Louisiana.

Another Willie - Louisiana Highway patrolman Willie Williams - busted Nelson and his crew on September 18, 2006, on Highway 10 in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, just two days after The Red Headed Stranger called for marijuana to be decriminalised as part of The Kinkster's campaign to become Governor.

I suspect it was Turner who defended Willie's Austin actor mate McConaughey who was charged by police at 2.37 am on October 25, 1999 after noise complaints about him playing bongo drums in his home while naked, except for a Willie bandana.

The actor, who was entertaining fellow actor Cole Hauser from aptly named 1993 movie Dazed And Confused beat marijuana possession and use charges.

Matthew also beat a quaint charge of declining transport from police but wore a noise charges and was fined $50.

But I appear to have digressed again.


"I got my paycheck stashed/ broke out my best stash/ gonna tie one on/ dance all night long/ Lord, it's Saturday night." - Saturday Night - Billy Joe Shaver.

Billy Joe was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawfully carrying a handgun on the premises of a business with a license to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption.

The Lorena Police Department said Shaver surrendered about noon on Tuesday April 3 at the McLennan County Courthouse.

He was released from the McLennan County Jail about two hours later after posting $50,000 bond.

This enabled him to attend the launch of his Greatest Hits CD at the famed Waterloo Records on North Lamar in Austin.

The 18-track album, featuring two new Shaver songs - the prophetic Light A Candle For Me and Melody - is on Houston based Compadre Records.

Early this year Matthew Knowles - father of Destiny's Child singer Beyonce - bought the label from Brad Turcotte.

Shaver's album is his 18th in a 40-year career and he's scheduled to perform shows to promote it in Texas, Georgia and Alabama until April 29.

Among label mates are James McMurtry, former Great Divide singer Mike McGuire, Todd Snider, Hayes Carll, Suzy Bogguss, Julie Lee, Kevin Kinney and many Texans on a batch of compilation discs.


According to McLennan County Justice Court documents, Coker told police he had been shot in the face on Saturday night - March 31 - by Shaver after talking with him for about an hour at Papa Joe's.

They had mutually determined that Shaver's wife, Wanda, was the widow of Coker's cousin.

Coker, who was taken to hospital but able to speak, told police Shaver "then asked him to walk out to the back porch with him, and once on the back porch Shaver asked him 'Where do you want it?'" the documents read.

"Coker then said Shaver levelled a handgun at his face and fired the weapon, with the bullet striking him in the left cheek. Coker further stated the attack was unprovoked."

Not so, said Shaver's lawyer Turner who claimed old Billy Joe shot Coker because he was drunk, had a knife and had followed him and his wife to his car.

Turner said he spent Sunday interviewing witnesses at the bar.

He said witnesses told him Coker was intoxicated and had a knife.

Shaver did not know Coker, Turner said.


Shaver's life and career are now in the hands of his lawyer and the courts.

But the singer, who won wide acclaim on his three Australian tours, could be excused for thinking he ran off the Lost Highway in severe karma crashes.

His guitar playing ability was seriously challenged in the sixties when he lost the tops of three fingers and severed tendons in a sawmill accident after he was discharged from the Navy.

Shaver crawled around in the sawmill dust, retrieved the digits and drove with them in his pickup truck to a former Navy surgeon - a Dr Tabb - who was unable to re-attach them.

Forty years later, on his return to Austin in 2002 after his gruelling Australian tour in February, he had a quadruple heart by-pass operation.

Shaver was heavily medicated here as he had recently suffered a heart attack on stage on Saturday August 20, 2001 at Gruene Hall - the oldest dance hall in Texas.

The singer, performing on only one active artery, returned to his motel straight after his concerts.

That was one of my many duties - as joint tour chauffeur and diarist for Friedman and Shaver with Hall.

Shaver had a health relapse near Benalla en route to a concert in Albury after learning of the death of his mentor Waylon Jennings at 64 on February 13.


In 1973 Jennings recorded Honky Tonk Heroes - a groundbreaking album with nine of the 10 songs written by Shaver.

So when he became ill the two Tarago rental vans carrying him, Friedman and Little Jewford and their partners, Washington Ratso, the late Jesse Taylor, and tour manager Ben, pulled up at a truck stop near Baddaginnie on the Hume Highway.

Billy Joe Shaver with Shooter Jennings
Photo by Carol Taylor>

The convoy then returned to the highway for the trip to the Burvale Motel in Albury before a concert at the funky Newmarket Hotel.

Shaver later held a wake for Jennings in a Canberra motel.

During the wake Billy Joe and Kinky did a live interview with New York syndicated radio and TV personality Don Imus.

It was the latest in a string of Australian tours have been, ah memorable, for the poet laureate of Texan troubadours.

Billy Joe cut a live album at the Corner Hotel, Richmond, on his first Australian tour in 1989.

Although the concert, recorded with his backing band Keith Glass & The Tumblers, had limited distribution it became a collector's item.

So did the Shaver cartoons by singing satirist Fred Negro who opened for Billy Joe on his return tour in 1994 with Waylon and Willie.

Shaver's band featured son Eddy, with whom he recorded six albums, before he died at 38 of a heroin overdose at 2.52 am on New Year's Eve, 2000.


"I started staying out all hours of the night/ and winding up drunk and in jail/ the last thing she said through them cold iron bars/ was this time I won't go your bail." - (Amtrak) And I Ain't Coming Back - Billy Joe Shaver.

The singer has harvested hell from heartbreak in a life that he documented in some of the best songs of our times.

Shaver wrote many songs about first wife Brenda whom he married three times before she died in July 1999 after a long struggle with cancer.

Billy Joe was 21 and Brenda was 17 when they first sprinted to the altar.

They later divorced and then repeated the nuptials on two more occasions.

His marital odes included I Couldn't Be Me Without You and Ragged Old Truck - one of the classics was the Amtrak entrée on his 1982 album Oklahoma Wind.

Billy Joe swore to Brenda he would slow down after a mystical moment at a cave at The Narrows produced I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal But I'm Gonna Be A Diamond Some Day.

It was a nice little earner when cut by stone country Floridian John Anderson now also enjoying a career rebirth with Easy Money, produced by John Rich.


"I'd swore to my wife after old chunk of coal that I'd settle down," Billy Joe told me in 1988.

"But I got into my old ways of drinking and raising cane everything. I cleaned up for a long time. But an old buddy came into town from Oklahoma City. I had done a gig with Jerry Jeff Walker at Vanderbilt University here in Nashville. Then we went down to the Stockyards, a dance hall. We got started drinking a little more. Then I decided to drive him home to his motel. We were about four blocks from there and the darned police pulled us over. I took the test and sure enough I was drunk."

There was also another recurring problem.

"I'd forgot I had this little bitty old pistol in my boot," Shaver confessed.

"It was a Derringer type 22 deal. I was so drunk I had forgot about it. The cop said 'I'm gonna have to frisk you and handcuff you and put you in gaol.' I said 'before you do that can you handcuff me.' He then reached down and pulled the pistol out of my boot. They got me real bad.'"

But not as bad as Brenda - the police called her in to bail Billy Joe out.

"She was so doggone mad,' Billy Joe recalled.

"She let me stay in there for a while. She has these black leather boots on way up to her knees and spike heels. She had a bag in her hand, she was swinging it she was so mad.

She said 'I ought not even go you bail. I ought to take what I got on right now and leave you. I'm gonna jump the first plane out of here.'

"I got to thinking gee I wish you'd said train because that's a little more country. But I wrote Amtrak And I Ain't Coming Back Anyway."

His mother, Victory, and Brenda's mother Mildred Tindell, also died of cancer in that two-year period.

Shaver had dedicated his 1998 album Victory to his mother Victory Odessa Watson and wrote Honky Tonk Heroes and Old Five And Dimers Like Me about maternal and grand maternal memories from his childhood.


The jinx continued on New Year's Eve 2000 when Shaver's guitar-slinging son Eddy - also a solo recording artist and just 38 - died of a heroin overdose in a motel at the edge of Waco.

I first saw Eddy perform with Billy Joe at a Nashville honky tonk in 1983 - Dickey Betts was also in the audience, and of course, later on stage.

Shaver also wrote songs for Eddy including We Are The Cowboys that he wrote en route to the Caribou Ranch in Boulder, Colorado, in 1980.

"Eddy was real sick," Billy Joe told me in the 1988 interview.

"He had that Legionaires' Disease. He was meant to play on the Caribou sessions but he didn't make it because he was in hospital. I referred to him as the kid with the fast gun who aint't with us today."

Shaver also wrote Blood Is Thicker Than Water - focal point of The Earth Rolls On - his 13th album.

Billy Joe sang the first verse complaining about his son's choice of wife - 'now she's stealing rings off the hands of your dying mother/ if that witch don't leave I believe I'm gonna have to help her."

Eddy later retorts "I've seen you pukin' out your guts and runnin' with sluts when you was married to my mother."

Star in My Heart was perceived as a goodbye song to Eddy with lines like, "though we are many worlds apart, I'm still your friend."

"I wrote that to him when he went out to Encino to dry out," Billy Joe said.

"And he stayed out there quite a while. Then he walked out, got out of there and came back. During that time, I wrote that song. It sounds like a love song to someone you're leaving. It could be taken that way, I guess."


Shaver boomeranged from his family tragedies and health problems by recording his aptly titled album The Real Deal.

He also wed nurse Wanda Lynn Canady on September 26, 2005, in Corsicana, Texas, in a private service performed by his uncle - Rev. Bill Honea.

Shortly after the wedding, Shaver cracked a vertebra while "Indian Wrestling" with a friend.

Billy Joe was engaged to another hospice nurse, Joanne Gray, 40, early that year, but she left him for an older man - a story he documents in his song There's No Fool Like an Old Fool.

Shaver also taped the theme song for Squidbillies - a new series on the U.S. Cartoon Network.

A galaxy of stars - including Nelson, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Big & Rich and the late legends Johnny Cash, Jennings and Elvis Presley - have recorded Shaver's songs.

His own hits include Georgia on a Fast Train in 1973, You Asked Me To in 1978 and I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal But I'm Gonna Be A Diamond Some Day - also a hit for John Anderson.

Shaver is also a 2006 inductee into the Texas Music Hall of Fame.

He recently collaborated with Big & Rich on a new version of his song Live Forever that was inspired by flying across the international dateline to Australia.

The song video has since appeared here on Pay TV channel CMC and Nu Country TV on
C 31 in Victoria and South Australia.


Shaver, a singer by trade, is also an accomplished actor.

He appeared with Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Todd Allen, John Beasley and Johnny Cash's late second wife June Carter Cash in 1997 Hollywood movie The Apostle.

Shaver also joined Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment, Josh Lucas, Kyra Sedgwick and Nicky Katt in 2003 movie Secondhand Lions.

Duvall's Argentinean born actress partner Luciana Pedraza, who starred with him in Assassination Tango, also produced the Shaver documentary Portrait Of Billy Joe in 2004 for Butchers Run Films.

It shared a screening slot at the 2005 Nashville Film Festival with Nu Country FM - a documentary about a now defunct Melbourne radio station - that appeared on ABC-TV and was directed by North Fitzroy filmmaker Nick Brenner.

Shaver later released his autobiography Honky Tonk Hero for Texas University Press in 2005.

He was also honoured on the all star cast album A Tribute To Billy Joe Shaver: Live.

Now, all the singer needs is a karma reverse and the charges to be dismissed to enable an Australian tour.

We could all then do a Blue Texas Waltz.

And, of course, have fertile fodder for Nu Country TV that returns to C 31 for Series #8 in June.

Further Billy Joe info and video clip - http://www.billyjoeshaver.com/

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