In the last couple of weeks Billy Joe Shaver released his new album Long In The Tooth, had that album chart in the Country Top 20 for the first time in his career, and celebrated his 75th birthday. Billy Joe Shaver is probably best known for writing all but one of the songs on Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes album, and being willing to fight Waylon to make him hear his songs. But there’s another story about Shaver that I like even more.
Way back when Johnny Cash was in rehab, after he had crawled into cave and waited to die, and fighting amphetamine addiction and trying to save himself from certain death he would sing one song every morning as soon as he woke up. Cash has said that without that song he probably would not have survived. That song was Chunk Of Coal. To write a song that helps saves the life of a man as significant as Cash is a gigantic feather in the cap of life. Cash has said that Shaver’s songs have an air of spirituality but are fundamentally grounded to the earth.
I have been fortunate enough to see Billy Joe Shaver once. I got my father into him and the two of us talked about going together but it never worked out. I saw Shaver at the Continental Club in Austin during SXSW years ago. I was only familiar with one song but I had a hole in my schedule and so I went to check out Shaver play before Slobberbone. It was spectacular. High energy and a ruckus country affair. It was only years later that I learned the show I saw was one of the most significant Shaver shows ever. Billy Joe’s son died of an overdose one New Year’s Eve or Day. Billy Joe and his son had been playing together for a number of years before he died and the SXSW show I saw was the first Billy Joe Shaver show since his son died.
There’s a reason I’m telling you all of this in the review of Long In The Tooth. If you just click on the song samples below and listen to thirty seconds or a minute you may not leave impressed. What you’ll hear is a well-worn voice singing fairly straight up honky tonk country songs. The band is tight and the songs are great. Shaver has written some songs that can shake your personal foundation but I don’t think there are any of those types of songs here. But I don’t care.
The most significant song on Long In The Tooth is “The Git Go”. (Willie also sings it on his new record) The song deals with greed and the consequences and roots of it. In classic Shaver fashion he begins with a spiritual beginning. The first verse is a brief telling of temptation in the Garden of Eden and in the second verse he skips all the way to present day and political greed. With the third verse Shaver wrestles with the greed of war and how the rich prosper from it and the poor die from it. He exits out of that verse with the line “War is the beast that makes every mother cry.”
In the fourth and final verse Shaver returns to the Bible and the execution of the son of God. The point of this verse is to show consequences. Jesus was hung on the cross because he told the truth. And it was Jesus’ primary message that we should love one another and in the verse Shaver points out that the world has been forgetting this message more and more. In many ways greed is the opposite of love and through current events and Bible references Shaver ties the spiritual world to the current world. It’s classic Shaver.
Don’t be scared off by the religious references. If there were more Christians like Billy Joe the world would be a better place. Not only does this man deserve your respect and attention, Long In The Tooth deserves to be Essential Listening.