‘Outlaw’ Country Music Legend Billy Joe Shaver Dead at 81

Country singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, a man Willie Nelson had called “the greatest living songwriter,” suffered a massive stroke and died in Waco, Texas at 81.

Texas born Shaver rose to fame in the 1970’s “outlaw country” scene alongside recently deceased Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.  

Shaver began his professional music career as a songwriter, with Jennings choosing to use nearly all Shaver songs to record his album Honky Tonk Heroes, which is considered to be “the touchstone of the outlaw country movement.”

The success of Jennings’ album led to Shaver landing a deal to record his debut album, 1973’s Old Five and Dimers Like Me, which charted with hits “Black Rose” and “I Been to Georgia on a Fish Train.” 

Though Shaver went on to record sixteen more albums over the course of his forty-one-year singing career, he was lauded for his song-writing prowess. He wrote for the likes of Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Patty Loveless, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Tom T. Hall. 

Notably, he wrote “Live Forever” which Robert Duvall performs in the movie Crazy Heart, and country music supergroup the Highwaymen recorded for their 1995 album The Road Goes On Forever. Shaver co-wrote the song with his son Eddy, who died of a heroin overdose, a year after his mother, Billy’s wife Brenda, died of cancer in 1999.  

Shaver embodied the outlaw country lifestyle, he married and divorced Brenda Tindell three times, later marrying Wanda Lynn Canady twice after annulling their first marriage, and shot a man in the face after reportedly asking him, “where to you want it,” which inspired a country song by the same name. 

He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and received the Poet’s Award from the Academy of Country Music in 2019.  

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