Billy Joe Shaver, the outlaw-country original who wrote classic songs for the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and whose “Live Forever” was performed by Robert Duvall in the 2009 Best Picture Oscar nominee Crazy Heart, died today after a stroke in Waco, TX. He was 81. A friend confirmed his death to our sister publication Rolling Stone.
Although Shaver never had much commercial success as a recording artist, he is widely considered among country’s greatest songwriters. All but one of the tracks on Jennings’ 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes — an early benchmark of the “outlaw country” genre — was written or co-written by Shaver, including its famous title cut. His best-known songs also include “Ain’t No God In Mexico” “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day),” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” “Live Forever,” “Tramp on Your Street” and “Try and Try Again.”
Elvis Presley recorded Shaver’s “You Asked Me To” for his 1975 LP Promised Land. That song also appeared on Honky Tonk Heroes. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson are among the many other notables who covered Shaver’s songs.
Watch Shaver introduce and perform “Honky Tonk Heroes” for Music City Roots Live From the Factory in 2015:
Born on August 16, 1939, in Corsicana, TX, Shaver released 17 studio albums from 1973-2014, but only his last one — Long in the Tooth — made Billboard’s Country Albums chant. Featuring such guests as Nelson. Leon Russell and Tony Joe White, it also dented the pop albums list. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.
Shaver was arrested in 2007 after shooting a man in the face during a dispute at a Texas tavern. The man survived, but Shaver was tried for aggravated assault. He acquitted by a jury who agreed with his claim of self-defense.
Along with Crazy Heart, Shaver’s songs have been featured in numerous films and TV shows including Hell or High Water, Wild Horses, GCB, Man of the House and Serving Sara. His song “Warrior Man” was used as the theme song for the 2000s Adult Swim toon Squidbillies, which was performed by myriad artists ranging from George Jones, Steve Earle and Lynyrd Skynyrd to the B-52s, the Flaming Lips and “Weird” Al Yankovic. Shaver and Nelson also performed “Hard to Be an Outlaw” together on Late Show with David Letterman in 2014.
Shaver also had a handful of acting credits. Along with voicing a character in a 2011 episode, he had minor roles in the features Secondhand Lions, The Apostle, The Wendell Baker Story and A Night in Old Mexico, among others.