Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Art of the Cover - Billy Joe Shaver's "Long In The Tooth" (2014)

"I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver, I'm reading James Joyce. Some people tell me I've got the blood of the land in my voice."

- Bob Dylan

A picture tells a thousand words .. indeed!

A character defining shot adorns what was a long awaited collection from one of Bob Dylan's favourites as the namecheck in "I Feel A Change Comin' On" from Together Through Life clearly suggests. Bob has also performed some of Shaver's songs live.

In one fell swoop, Dylan introduced Billy Joe to millions. Shaver savors the irony of it all, too. Many years ago, before he really got rolling as a songwriter's songwriter, Dylan, unintentionally, almost made him quit. As Shaver recalled .... 
"Bob had this thing in his early songs that seemed to be about world peace, which was something that I favored, too. I heard a bunch of his songs and had my hat in my hand and was just about to leave the business. Thinking the way Bob did things, I just thought, 'Well, he's done everything.' I was listening to his tapes and traveling across the Brazos River and I thought, 'I'll just go along the best I can and see if I can make a little dent in music,' 'cause I enjoyed it and knew I was good. So I threw all of Bob's tapes in the river and just forgot about his music for a while. After that, I didn't look back and started to get pretty good at songwriting."

Perhaps the man who really put Shaver on the map was Waylon Jennings. In 1973, after they almost settled things with a fistfight at the studio where Jennings was recording (long story), the singer, who'd already heard Shaver's "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me," let Shaver sing him a couple of new tunes. Jennings was so impressed that even though Chet Atkins, Jennings' producer, was worried about the use of salty language in the tunes, it didn't matter to the Big Man. 

Jennings fired Atkins, got his pal, the gifted songwriter, Tompall Glaser, to produce, and the result, "Honky Tonk Heroes," was a smash, virtually starting the 'Outlaw' movement in country music. And every song on the album, with one exception, was written or co-written by Shaver.

With Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson leading the way, Outlaw Country took hold in the '70s. And while Billy Joe Shaver was not a familiar name or face to many country music fans, singers and songwriters alike have deep respect for him. Some of his best songs, like "I Been to Georgia On a Fast Train" and "Live Forever," have been recorded by many country stars, and chances are good that trend will continue throughout Shaver's lifetime.

Life hasn't always been easy for Shaver. He lost a few fingers when he was a young man, and was acquitted of aggravated assault in the 2007 shooting of a man in a bar parking lot.

Shaver has lived the outlaw life, complete with near-death experiences and a brutal honesty that shows in his songs. And like a typical Texan, he makes no excuses.

Billy Joe Shaver's finest songs prowl (Hard To Be an Outlaw) and punch (Music City USA) with welterweight fury. Evidence: The legendary outlaw's seamless Long in the Tooth.

Shaver's first studio album in six years showcases a singular songwriter in absolutely peak form as he unearths his trademark truths around every corner.

"This is the best album I've ever done", he says.

Long in the Tooth charts his journey as an unrepentant outlaw. Accordingly, Shaver delivers the classic country fans expect but also brings all new sonic tricks this time around.

"Each song is different with different beats and different kinds of music", he says.

"Songwriting is gut wrenching, but if you dig down and write real honest you'll find some- thing real great. I believe everybody should write. It's the cheapest psychiatrist there is and, God knows, I still need one!"


01 – Hard to Be an Outlaw (feat. Willie Nelson)
02 – Long in the Tooth
03 – The Git Go
04 – Sunbeam Special
05 – I’ll Love You as Much as I Can
06 – Last Call for Alcohol
07 – Checkers and Chess
08 – American Me
09 – I’m in Love
10 – Music City USA

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