Billy Joe Shaver, ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ Songwriter, Dead at 81

by Josh Lanier
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Billy Joe Shaver, the beloved legendary country singer/songwriter, died Wednesday in Waco, Texas after suffering a stroke recently, Rolling Stone reported. He was 81.

A pioneer of outlaw country, Shaver is credited with some of the genres most defining songs including “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train, and “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” Moreover, he wrote songs for some of country music’s greatest artists including Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.

Willie Nelson called Shaver the “greatest living songwriter” in 2010.

Shaver released 17 studio albums during his lifetime. His 2014 album “Long in the Tooth” is the most successful. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2007 for his album “Everybody’s Brother.” In addition to that, the Academy of Country Music gave him the Poet’s Award in 2019, Taste of Country said.

Shaver led an almost mythic life, much of which has become country music lore.

Born in 1939 to a single mother in Texas, Shaver dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He joined the Navy at 17 and hitchhiked across the country after that. Shaver married and divorced the same woman, Brenda Tindell, three times. He also suffered a heart attack on stage in 2003.

In 2007, he shot a man outside a bar in Lorena, Texas, Yahoo News said. He claimed self-defense and a jury acquitted him, Yahoo said. He wrote about it in his song “Wacko From Waco.”

“Hit him right between the mother and the f—er. Fixed him right up,” he said of the shooting at the time.

Love for Billy Joe Shaver Pours In After Death

Billy Joe Shaver was able to walk the line between outlaw and poet.

“I know the power of words,” Shaver said in a 2014 Esquire profile. “I figure they’d be here forever. I’m hoping a lot of them are gonna make it.”

After his death, fans eulogized him online.

“Billy Joe Shaver might’ve been the only true outlaw whoever made his living writing about the inner workings of his heart. The realest of them all,” country singer Jason Isbell said on Twitter.

“Another great Texas music icon is gone. Billy Joe Shaver was a bona fide, certified, Lone Star original – a throwback to a far different time. This was echoed in the music he wrote and performed over a long and very adventurous life,” former newsman Dan Rather posted.

Comedian Larry the Cable Guy wrote, “Oh no! Man BJS was so good. I have Like 15 play lists and he’s in 10 of em. Looks like his song “live forever” has come true. RT @SIRIUSXM: Rest in peace to Outlaw Country legend Billy Joe Shaver, who has died at the age of 81.”

His family has not released any funeral arrangements.

Outsider.com