Two of the stories you’ll find in this week’s issue center on musicians that have been drawn to Nashville to pursue careers in the music business. One has found a great deal of success there, and another is just beginning to look for it.
On the cover is Chris Stapleton, a country singer-songwriter who’s built a lot of buzz recently for his debut solo album released last month, about a decade and a half after moving to the Music City to become a songwriter.
We also have Tyler Boone, a longtime Charleston musician who’s playing his farewell show at the Music Farm this week before packing up and heading to Nashville, following the footsteps of many other Southern hopefuls.
So after all that chatter about the big music industry town, it was pretty interesting to chat with Billy Joe Shaver, an outlaw country star who’s playing at the Pour House on Tuesday.
Although Shaver’s life has seemed like one long country ballad, the 75-year-old artist has always been the square peg to the round hole of the Nashville music scene, for reasons he still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around.
The first track of his latest album, “Long in the Tooth,” is called “It’s Hard to be an Outlaw,” which he sings with his friend, Willie Nelson. He explained that after a lifetime of writing songs, it’s hard to understand why he’s never reached the same level of country stardom as his peers.
“It’s kind of hard to be accepted. Or maybe I’m just paranoid or something, but it doesn’t seem like I’m as accepted as the rest of them,” he said by phone from his home in Waco, Texas.
It’s not that Shaver has gone completely unnoticed. His songs have been performed by the Allman Brothers, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. He either wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on Waylon Jennings’ “Honky Tonk Heroes,” often called the first true outlaw country album.
Shaver was instrumental in adding some diversity to the ’70s and ’80s country scene, which he sums up as “big sequin suits and cheatin’ songs and all that stuff.”
“During that time, Kris Kristofferson and myself and Willie Nelson and a bunch of others, we formed a real good foundation in the middle of it all,” he said.
But for whatever reason, Shaver as the performer of his own music didn’t seem to gain as much popularity.
It’s understandable why he’s perplexed by that. The man oozes authenticity, and that’s something any country fan can appreciate. The bedrock of the genre is its honest, simple songs, with relatable lessons about love or struggling with inner demons.
And Shaver has a Rolodex of experiences to draw from.
His great-great-great grandfather, Revolutionary War veteran Evan Thomas Watson, was one of the founders of the Republic of Texas, so the outlaw spirit has long been running through his family’s veins.
He grew up in Corsicana, Texas, where he quit school in eighth grade to pick cotton and bale hay. A few years later, he lost parts of his fingers on his guitar-picking hand in a sawmill accident.
Later in life, his mother, his wife and his only son, Eddy Shaver, who was the guitarist in his band, all died within a year of one another.
In 2007, he got in a fight outside a saloon that ended in gunfire. His opponent’s injuries weren’t life-threatening, and Shaver was acquitted in a Waco courtroom after pleading self-defense in 2010.
The incident almost made its way into his latest album in the song “Wacko from Waco,” but he and producers Ray Kennedy and Gary Nicholson decided to leave it out.
“We got to thinking that it would get so much attention, that the rest of them wouldn’t and the rest of them are real solid, good songs and not controversial like that,” Shaver said.
After everything the musician has been through in his lifetime, finally there’s a happy ending. He said he feels like this new album is his best work yet, and he’s encouraged by how much audiences are connecting with the new music.
“It was nice to get some attention for it after all these years,” he said. “When the cream finally came to the top, I assumed I’d already be dead. But thankfully I’m not, and I get to enjoy it.”
The budget for the album wasn’t big, but he said he had some help from friends such as Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, Shawn Camp and others.
“We just made ... sure we made a good album, that’s all we were up to,” he said.
One thing that could be adding to his recent momentum, he said, is how younger listeners and artists are taking an interest in outlaw music as an alternative to pop-country.
“That foundation we built, all these young artists now are building on it,” he said. “I’m really flattered that anybody would even try to write anywhere near someone like me, it flatters me, you know, it feels good to me and it’s good for the music. Everybody’s getting out on the edge again.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.