Billy Joe Shaver, a true renegade among Texas' singer-songwriters, died on Wednesday (Oct. 28) at the age of 81. Per SiriusXM, he passed away following a massive stroke at Ascension Providence Hospital in Waco.
Born Aug. 16, 1939 in Corsicana, Texas, Shaver was first exposed to country music when he tagged along to his single mother's job at a nightclub.
Before setting his sights on Austin or Nashville, Shaver worked at a sawmill. He lost parts of two fingers in a work accident, forcing him to adapt as a guitarist.
Shaver's first big break as a songwriter came when 10 of his songs appeared on Waylon Jennings' 1973 outlaw country classic Honky Tonk Heroes, including the title track, "Old Five and Dimers Like Me," "Black Rose" and "Ain't No God in Mexico."
Others to record Shaver's songs include Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Tom T. Hall, John Anderson, The Allman Brothers Band and Elvis Presley.
Additional examples of Shaver's songwriting brilliance include "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train," Bare co-write "Jesus Christ, What a Man," "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)" (a Top 5 hit for Anderson in 1981) and "Tramp on Your Street," a homage to Hank Williams' version of country-gospel standard "Tramp on the Street." The latter became a title track for Shaver's 1993 album with his late son Eddy Shaver.
Despite having his own successful career as a touring and recording act, Shaver always defined himself as a songwriter.
"Not everyone can be dedicated to it. I'm a songwriter first and then whatever else I do second... I enjoy the heck out of entertaining and I enjoy all the aspects of what comes with it, but the song is like the cheapest psychiatrist there is," Shaver said, as quoted by Rolling Stone Country. "And I pretty much need one all the time."
In more recent years, Bob Dylan name dropped Shaver in song, and Willie Nelson referred to his fellow Texan as "the greatest living songwriter."