Billy Joe Shaver, Outlaw Country Songwriter, Dead at 81

Billy Joe Shaver, the outlaw country music singer-songwriter, has died in his native Texas after suffering a stroke. He was 81. Shaver’s career spanned nearly 50 years and he was regarded as one of the signature voices of the outlaw country genre.

Born in Coriscana, Texas, in 1939, Shaver moved to Houston in the 1960s and frequented the Old Quarter, a nightclub where he met Townes Van Zandt. The friendship led him to Nashville, where he was signed as a writer to singer-songwriter Bobby Bare’s publishing company. He met Waylon Jennings in 1971, and would go on to write nearly all of the songs on Jennings’ 1973 outlaw country classic Honky Tonk Heroes.

Shaver released his own debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me, also in 1973. Throughout the ’70s, his songs would be recorded by Elvis Presley, David Allan Coe, Patty Loveless, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Shaver had a turbulent personal life that mirrored the outlaw lifestyle depicted in his music: In 2007, Shaver shot a man in the face outside a bar in Lorena, Texas, and was eventually acquitted of aggravated assault after claiming self-defense. He later wrote a song about the incident, titled “Wacko From Waco.”

Shaver was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. That same year, the Americana Music Association honored Shaver with its inaugural lifetime achievement award for songwriting. Shaver released his final album, Long in the Tooth, in 2014.

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