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Book Review: Billy Joe Shaver – Honky Tonk Hero

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Billy Joe Shaver is a living legend. He’s left a decades-long imprint on Texas music, from his songwriting on Waylon Jennings’s 1973 Honky Tonk Heroes to his perseverance and continued recording after the loss of wife Brenda and son Eddy in 1999. Shaver has always written his life story into his songs. Now he’s fleshing out his legacy with Honky Tonk Hero from UT Press.

The first half of Honky Tonk Hero is the memoir section. At 72 pages, it is a brief chronicle that presents little new information for those already familiar with Shaver’s life and work. But written in Billy Joe’s engaging voice, it still manages to captivate even when covering familiar territory.

Shaver is a natural songwriter. Like one-time contemporary Townes Van Zandt, he views each lyric as an artistic creation. “To me, the song is poetry. That’s all it is. It’s the way I describe the world around me, make sense of it. … I believe my songs will live long after I’m gone.”

Since Shaver’s songs have been so openly autobiographical, it’s fitting that lyrics comprise the second half of Honky Tonk Hero. Every song penned by Billy Joe and included on recordings from 1973 to 2002 is represented. Preceding the lyrics is a handy index that divides the songs into albums.

At 65, Billy Joe Shaver has already been the subject of a feature-length documentary and recipient of the American Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And now he’s written his autobiography. But that doesn’t mean that he’s content to ride out his remaining years.

In addition to his usual heavy touring schedule, this year Shaver has been featured on “60 Minutes II” in an interview with fellow Texan Dan Rather, released a compilation CD from his star-studded 65th birthday party last summer in Austin, and then released a new full-length album, The Real Deal. And throughout it all he is serving as “spiritual advisor” to Kinky Friedman’s gubernatorial campaign.

With so much living left to do, perhaps Honky Tonk Hero will be only the first installment in Billy Joe Shaver’s life story.

Read This Is Texas Music’s review of A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver.

Read This Is Texas Music’s review of The Real Deal.

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About Patrick Nichols

  • Vern Halen

    From “An Old Chunk of Coal” to “The Hottest Thing in Town,” Shaver can write ’em from any angle. A great songwriter who doesn’t get enough credit.

  • Shaver is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and a great performer as well. It’s a shame that he’s not more well known…

  • Billy Joe Shaver is just now coming to my attention. I’ve got to find out more about this guy. I am definitely into a well written song, no matter what the genre.

  • Todd (The Parts Guy)

    After having a chance to meet Mr. Shaver, one of the most down to earth people in the world, a person will gain a whole new respect for the man and his music. Truly he has not been given enough credit for all that he has done in the music business. Songs that he wrote years ago are still being recorded today and remembered word for word. And the list of artist that are recording them today…WOW. The man has been through A LOT in his life and you can feel every second of it in his voice and his music. Yet, I feel, that he has never forgotten his roots nor the people that lisen and buy his mucis. God Bless people like Billy Joe! And Lord help us all when he is gone.

  • charles

    have not read the book but did spend this morning listeng to billie joe and the boys reprsising waylon jennings honky tonk heroes album. wonderful music easy to play and easy to understand. billie joe I love you!

  • I have not read the Book yet but I hope to soon. Billy joe is my Favorite song writters. I have Recorded is songs as well and I have even met Him. a very nice Guy
    Thank you so much Billy joe!
    your Fan Tommy!