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Billy Joe Shaver - Live From Austin, Texas
By: George Peden, CSO Staff Journalist

Jesse lit us up and passed the bottle one more time / We used to smoke and drink a lot back then / Thunder shook the heavens and the lightning danced the sky / Like I ain't seen since can't remember when/
Billy Joe Shaver

It seems the Corsicana, Texas born Billy Joe Shaver has been around forever. This August 14, 1984 showcase performance, captured over several Austin City Limits TV shows, confirms some of the truth. Shaver, a cutting force in the respected and celebrated ‘70s Outlaw movement, having written classics for Bare, Jennings, Cash, Nelson and Kristofferson, is unpretentious on stage. He’s also honest and revealing in his music. This DVD captures both of those envied elements.

History shows where Shaver mined the grist for his tunes. A stint in the Navy, a quick and meaningless succession of dead-end jobs, including one in a sawmill, where he lost part of a finger on his right-hand; then, in 1966, on to Nashville. It was an “eighth grade education” and a “good Christian raisin’” and luck, not to mention a swag of gritty songs that worked magic for the singer and songwriter who snagged a $50 a week writing songs for Bobby Bare’s publishing company. Time and talent complete the history lesson. 

Shaver’s style and music isn’t for everyone; he doesn’t have a charmed voice or chiseled looks, but he does have what many artists lack and more importantly want – connection. Shaver, the denim-clad, hat-wearing troubadour has lived a curious and troubled life. It’s a life that’s seen him wed and divorce the same woman three times, and, sadly, bury band mate and guitarist son “Fast” Eddy Shaver of a drug overdose on New Year’s Eve 2000. It’s a life, when looked at in total, easily reveals the ingredients that make his later musical releases keen and shared snapshots of the examined life. It’s a life, given the fragile nature of daily living, on some level, we can recognize.

But in August 1984, it was a little different. Billy Joe was riding a crest of Texas popularity, where he became known as a stand tall talent. The albums of those times – I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal and Billy Joe Shaver – all showcased a weathered and tortured soul, one the public, the astute and attentive at least, followed.

On this latest New West DVD, well captured for the home theatre enthusiast with a remastered and remixed 5.1 surround sound, Shaver melds the 15 tune self-written set with a liberal sprinkling of the familiar, that, decades on, still claim easy attention.

The set opens with “Ride Me Down Easy”. Shaver’s in fine vocal and his band – “Fast” Eddy on guitar, Kenny Hoelscher on bass with Jimmy Lester on drums -- pull out the stops and steam along unobtrusively and rhythmically, backing the main man through the fan favorites. The song list includes the racially entwined “Black Rose,” where the devil made him do it the first time,” and classics like “I’ve Been To Georgia On A Fast Train,” “Fit To Kill And Going Out In Style,” “Oklahoma Wind” and the salutary call to faith, “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ”.

Billy Joe Shaver. He’s part poet, part troubadour, but mainly an honest storyteller “who wasn’t born no yesterday”. He’s an icon in country music, partly because he’s lived many of his lyrics. Billy Joe is no clone or primped up copy of what a country singer should be – he’s an authentic. As the liner notes tell on this DVD, it’s here you’ll find the grit, the attitude, the defiance. You’ll also hear the stories, lyrical poetry, shared in unreserved intimacy.

Old five and dimers like the legendary Billy Joe need space on your DVD shelf. This release is a keeper, and it’s a highly recommended must have. And you can bet your Bottom Dollar on that, Sweet Mama.

 

 


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