(from Old Five And Dimers on Koch)
The free bumper sticker in my hands says “If you don’t love Jesus, go to Hell! – Billy Joe Shaver.” I’ve just seen a show at the Redwood that felt less like a country show than a Jonathan Richman performance, complete with spoken word recitations and changes in mood from silly to spiritual and back again. Yet Billy Joe Shaver is the man that launched a thousand record sales for folks like Waylon and Willie and captured the wanderlust son-of-a-gun spirit of the ’70s in ways that the Eagles and Burrito Brothers could only catch a glimmer of in their Nudie suit sequins. Shaver—like Dick Cheney—has the distinction of shooting a man in the face recently, and hopefully I won’t receive the same fate, though the stocky gentlemen with pompadours who seem to make up his entourage don’t look happy with me for taking up their hero’s precious time in the Redwood Bar’s rum-barrel decorated back room. This interview by Dan Collins.
There was a fight tonight! Do you think your music inspires brawls?
Billy Joe Shaver: No, they usually don’t have fights.
There were two guys going at it! You don’t inspire the pugilistic instinct?
Billy Joe Shaver: I doubt it! No, we play them skull-horses at home, and they never have fights. We sing all them old rowdy-ass songs, a whole lot rowdier than that, and they don’t have fights.
Maybe when you play less rowdy, people have more fights!
Billy Joe Shaver: Yeah, we gotta get more rowdy.
I was reading about the history of your music as played by Waylon Jennings, and I read that to get him to listen to your music, you had to go through a couple Hells Angels.
Billy Joe Shaver: I didn’t have to go through ‘em, but no, they could have got me. Waylon stopped ‘em. I told him I was gonna whup his ass. ‘Listen to my songs!’ Because he’d been ducking me and dodging me. And those two guys started toward me, and Waylon stopped them. It was a good thing! I was in pretty good shape; I could have held my own for a while! But he took me back and told me to play one tune. And I played one, and he said, ‘Well, if I like the next one, I’ll listen to another.’ And before long, we’d hit ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ and ‘Old Five and Dimers.’ And he got up, and I said, ‘I know what I gotta do now!’ And he went back out there, and changed everything around, brought his band in, and we recorded ‘Honky Tonk Heroes.’
I noticed tonight that a lot of the versions of your own songs that you played were slower than the ones Waylon put on record. Was that on purpose?
Billy Joe Shaver: Well, what we got is a brand new guitar player. don’t even know him! I just met him tonight. He’s good, though, but we hadn’t got used to it.
You were Kinky Friedman’s spiritual advisor on his gubernatorial run [for Texas]! What was that like?
Billy Joe Shaver: I kept trying to drill into his head that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. And he didn’t know what I was talking about! Ha ha, I’m just joking. Yeah, he did! Kinky’s a good guy. We’ve been friends since 1966.
As a former rodeo bum who became a poet, are you jealous of Rod McKuen, who did the same? You’re a better poet than him, but he sold more books.
Billy Joe Shaver: No! I’m not jealous of anybody. I like Rod McKuen. I’ve never met him, but I’ve read some of his books.
Do you think you’ll outlive him? I think he’s 93.
Billy Joe Shaver: Whaaaaaa! I don’t want to! Looks like I’m going to live forever, whether I want to or not.
My own dad is just eight years younger than you. What does he have to do in the next eight years to become as stylish as you?
Billy Joe Shaver: I doubt he’ll ever catch me! I think that’s about it, now, isn’t it?
I guess so! You have one more thing to tell our L.A. RECORD readers?
Billy Joe Shaver: Simplicity don’t need to be greased. Like a wheel? Simplicity don’t need to be greased.
BILLY JOE SHAVER WITH EILEN JEWELL AND DAVE GLEASON ON SAT., JUNE 19, AT THE REDWOOD BAR & GRILL, 316 W. 2ND STREET, DOWNTOWN. 8 PM / CONTACT VENUE FOR COVER / 21+. THEREDWOODBAR.COM.