This one’s for no good reason for this other than that I love Billy Joe Shaver, and I think he’s the greatest songwriter who ever lived. With apologies to Steve Earle, I’ll stand on Townes Van Zandt’s coffee table and say it, too. That was Johnny Cash’s opinion, and it’s mine too. So this post isn’t to say much, but that if you haven’t heard of Billy Joe Shaver, you need to fix that.
So here you go. None of these are in any order. I love them all equally.I f you asked me tomorrow it might be ten different songs. But right now, it’s these.
1. Texas Uphere Tennessee. I don’t think this is anybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song except mine. The first time I heard it I was at Bouchercon in San Francisco and staying in a hostel above a strip club across from City Lights for 30 bucks a night. I couldn’t sleep because of the show below, so I’d listen to Billy Joe Shaver and roll cigarettes at the window.
2. Live Forever. This one’s a no brainer. This is everybody’s favorite Billy Joe Shaver song. It ought to be everybody’s favorite song, period. I’m posting this version because his son Eddie’s playing guitar on it. More on that in a minute.
3. Ragged Old Truck. This is one of my favorite songs in the world, hands down. And it’s got a line in it I tell my kids all the time, “I may be as ugly as an old mudrail fence, but I’m loaded with hillbilly charm.” (Half of that’s true.) In this video, he also introduces it with one of the greatest stories ever told.
4. Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me. This is a song I used to sing to my kids, nearly every night back when they let me do things like that.
5. We Are The Cowboys. I might as well post one with some of Shaver’s friends, who know just how good he is. “We’re picking our words so we don’t have to eat ’em.” This is the kind of outlaw inclusiveness that I wish there was more of.
6. The Earth Rolls On. In the late 90s Billy Joe Shaver’s three-time wife died from cancer, so he and his son, Eddy, one of the best guitar players who ever worked, got together to wrote an album about her, and about what family means. What they ended up with wasn’t pretty. It was just as messy as family is. The kicker is that just before the album was released, Eddy died of a heroine overdose. This is the title song from that album. Eddy’s on guitar.
7. Cowboy Who Started the Fight. I’m still not sure what this song’s about. And I really don’t care. There’s something about it that moves me every time I hear it.
8. Old Five and Dimers. This is my mantra song. Like if I had one thing that summed up what I hoped my career and life to be, it’d be this, right from the first line: “I spent a lifetime making up my mind could to be more than the measure of what I thought other people could see.” What more is there that? And we won’t even get into the good luck and fast bucks.
9. Checkers and Chess. That said, this is probably the song that’d best sum up my life and career.
10. The Git Go. You can have every political song you want, I’ll take this one.
11. Ride Me Down Easy. This song cuts me down every time. It sounds like bragging, but it isn’t; it’s a lament. The audio’s not great, but this version is Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver singing it together, and that’s worth it.
And as a bonus, this Willie Nelson and Jamey Johnson singing about Billy Joe. The only time I saw Billy Joe he was playing for a crowd of about 30 in Cincinnati. And to me that was all that was all that was needed. He’s my hero.