CATCHING UP WITH ... BILLY JOE SHAVER
There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue.
There's just stuff people do.
-- the preacher in John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath
Billy Joe Shaver carries the quote on a card in his wallet. "I think that's so true," declares Billy Joe. "John Steinbeck's a hero of mine - and every time I read The Grapes Of Wrath it makes me feel humble."
It's no wonder Billy Joe, an architect of country's '70s "outlaw" movement, has an affinity for the late author. Like the Nobel Prize winner's novels, Billy Joe's lyrics draw upon life's poignant moments. His songs have been covered by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Allman Brothers Band, Kris Kristofferson, Marty Stuart, Asleep At The Wheel, David Allan Coe and many others.
Now the Texas singer/songwriter has peeled away his life again in his just-released Freedom's Child CD. And his experiences just keep coming.
Some of them have been hard to take. In just over two years' time, between 1999 and mid-2001, Billy Joe lost his wife, Brenda, and his mother, Victory, to cancer, and his son and guitarist/collaborator, Eddy, to a drug overdose. And Billy Joe himself suffered a heart attack onstage.
Even so, songs on his new CD reflect joy, love and good times.
" 'Day By Day' is a song about me, Brenda and Eddy," reveals Billy Joe, "and how the songs I write come from being with them. 'We' and 'Hold On To Yours (And I'll Hold On To Mine)' came from my relationship with Brenda. In fact, just about every song I ever wrote was about her.
" 'Magnolia Mother's Love' is about my mother, and 'Corsicana Daily Sun' deals with my hometown," he continues.
"In 'That's Why The Man In Black Sings The Blues,' Johnny Cash is singing the blues because of drug dealers selling to children, world hunger and other bad stuff."
The title cut is about the death of an unknown soldier. There are some hilarious songs, too, and a Christmas tune, "Merry Christmas To You."
Since making it to Nashville in the late '60s, Billy Joe has crafted a dozen critically acclaimed albums. His 1973 debut, Old Five And Dimers Like Me, created a musical landmark - one that even novelist Steinbeck recognized.
"John Steinbeck's son came up to me at a Bob Dylan concert," recalls Billy Joe. "He said, 'My dad's favorite song was 'Old Five And Dimers Like Me.' With the respect I have for Steinbeck's writing, that made me feel real good."
-- Larry Holden