Born: 1939 in Corsicana, Texas.
Sounds like: Everything that’s grizzled and red-blooded—and, conversely, good and Christian—about country music, condensed into the body and voice of a man who looks like Hank’s dad from King of the Hill.
For fans of: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, the U.S. of fuckin’ A.
Latest release: Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, a set of recordings from “the world’s largest honky-tonk” in Fort Worth, proving that, at age 73, Shaver can still command a band and an audience.
Why you care: Other than the fact he got away with shooting a dude in the face five years ago? Or that he lost two fingers in an accident at a sawmill and learned to play guitar without them? How about because he’s been name-checked in a song by Bob Dylan; covered by Elvis Presley, the Allman Brothers and Johnny Cash; and basically invented outlaw country by penning nearly all of Waylon Jennings’ epochal Honky Tonk Heroes? Or perhaps because his story—abandoned by his parents, stopped school after eighth grade, got hooked on drugs, found God, cycled through a series of odd jobs before being discovered by Bobby Bare and becoming one of Nashville’s most respected songwriters—is the kind of real-life tale of hard-won redemption country artists mythologize? Or maybe it’s just because the guy is so goddamned American it’s like he was cobbled together in a lab from bits of Woody Guthrie’s guitar, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and Clint Eastwood’s stubble. Whatever the reason, you should care about Billy Joe Shaver, because if you don’t, it’s entirely possible that, even at his advanced age, he’ll come to your house and make you care. Remember, he shot a guy in the face once.