Ode to Billy Joe

Billy Joe Shaver has a stunning new album in stores. But he can't enjoy it.

"I can't tell you all the times Willie's bailed me out of situations, but that was a big 'un," Shaver says. "I wasn't sure if I'd ever get up on a stage again."

It was another call from Nelson on the morning of December 31, 2000, that helped Shaver get through his most difficult day. "When Eddy died, Willie said I needed to be among friends." Shaver had a New Year's Eve gig scheduled at a club near Nelson's Pedernales ranch outside of Austin, and Billy Joe was finally able to convince himself that Eddy would want the show to go on. It was, Billy Joe says, the toughest gig of his life, the memories flooding each song until Nelson and pals had to take over. But he got through the night, thanks to some advice from Nelson, who lost a son to suicide several years ago. "Willie told me that there are just some thoughts that I'm gonna have to learn to let go, like, 'What could I have done differently to save him?'"

At Eddy's grave, Billy Joe picks up a little Texas flag that somebody stuck in the dirt, not yet covered with grass. "You will always be around," it says. "That's from 'Live Forever,' that song we wrote together," Billy Joe says. Eddy had that beautiful melody and the guitar part, and after he played it for me it just stuck in my head. I thought, 'Man, I gotta really come up with something special for this one.'"

Honky-tonk hero Billy Joe Shaver.
Jim Herrington
Honky-tonk hero Billy Joe Shaver.
Shaver, with his late son, Eddy: "I always figured I'd be 
the first to go."
Jim Herrington
Shaver, with his late son, Eddy: "I always figured I'd be the first to go."


Scheduled to perform with the Halfwaymen, on Wednesday, June 20. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe

A few months later, Billy Joe was driving the band back from a gig one night -- he always drives -- and he started thinking about how some songs seem to have lives of their own.

With Eddy's melody in his head on that long drive home, Billy Joe came up with the verse that brings context to the crazy life of a drifter with a sack fulla "cowboy songs."

"Nobody here will ever find me/But I will always be around/Just like the songs I leave behind me/I'm gonna live forever now."

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