Austin City Limits is devastated to learn of the death of singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, one of the pioneers of the outlaw country movement. He died Wednesday Oct. 28 in the hospital in Waco following a stroke. He was 81.
Nobody wrote songs about hard living and redemption like Billy Joe Shaver. Whether he was talking about falling off the wagon or getting back on, the Corsicana, Texas native’s plainspoken eloquence found the beauty in the rough times, and expressed it with optimism for the future. On his classic, much-covered tunes like “Georgia On a Fast Train” and “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday),” Shaver didn’t wallow in the seamier side of life – he understood that the bad times were as important a part of the journey as the good ones, and never gave up on hope, love, or joy. Though he mystifyingly never enjoyed the same level of fame as his contemporaries Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson or John Prine, he was admired, respected and loved by them all. Indeed, Jennings brought Shaver to prominence by filling his classic 1973 LP Honky Tonk Heroes with the troubadour’s songs.
“A writer once said that Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver were ‘the first of the last real cowboys,’” said ACL executive producer Terry Lickona. “Billy Joe added the heart and soul and grit and edge that made so-called outlaw country music real. He lived the life he wrote about, and we’re proud to have showcased his music four times over the years.”
As Shaver put it in one of his most famous songs, “I’m gonna live forever.” Perhaps not in body, but most definitely in body of work. Rest in peace, Billy Joe – you were definitely a diamond.