Billy Joe Shaver passed away in October of 2020 after suffering a stroke and will be forever remembered as one of the best songwriters in country music history. While Shaver remains unknown to the larger country world, artists like John Anderson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, and many others have recorded his songs. He wrote all but one song on Waylon Jennings’ iconic Honky Tonk Heroes album. John Anderson had a hit in 1981 with the Shaver-penned “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday).” The song about finding a new purpose in life is also a favorite among Billy Joe Shaver’s fans.
Last week, a new acoustic rendition of the Billy Joe Shaver favorite hit streaming services. Instead of his usual honky tonk flair, Shaver went for a stripped-down version of the song. The video’s description notes that it was taken from Shaver’s final recording session. The new recording features his longtime lead guitarist and surrogate son, Jeremy Lynn Woodall on guitar alongside a mandolin.
The Origins of the New Billy Joe Shaver Recording
According to Saving Country Music, Woodall stated that he and Shaver recorded the stripped-down cut of the song back in 2017. Originally, Woodall said, the song appeared on the soundtrack to the Shaver-focused episode of the animated show Tales from the Tour Bus.
Digging a little deeper, the folks at Lightning Rod Records released the new cut of the Billy Joe Shaver tune to accompany the late Norm MacDonald’s final comedy special, Nothing Special. Shaver and MacDonald had been friends for years before the songwriter’s passing.
Having one of Billy Joe Shaver’s final recordings close out MacDonald’s final comedy special is fitting. As the credits roll, these two friends are reunited through their art in front of countless people, just for a moment. While it’s disappointing that the recent release isn’t part of a new posthumous Billy Joe Shaver project is disappointing, the track’s addition to Nothing Special is touching for those who get it.
If you have a few minutes to spare, check out the video below. It reveals Shaver’s influence on MacDonald and shows the two old friends hanging out and laughing. It’ll put a Texas-sized smile on your face.
Looking Back at “Old Chunk of Coal”
“I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” has been recorded by a long list of artists under a handful of titles. That list of artists reads like a who’s who of classic country music. Bobby Bare was the first to record it. He contributed “I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday” to the 1979 compilation album Honky Tonkin’ for RCA Victor. After Bare, artists like Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson cut it. Back in 2000, Billy Joe teamed up with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson to record “I’m an Old Chunk of Coal” for the album Honky Tonk Heroes.
However, the most popular version of the song is from John Anderson’s 1981 album 2.
No matter who is singing the song, its message is one that I think all Outsiders can get behind. Shaver reportedly wrote it shortly after deciding against jumping off of a cliff. Instead of ending his life, he decided to live it to the fullest in the best way possible. This song was his roadmap to a better life.