By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Shaver, who routinely carries large sums of cash, is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, a time-honored practice in country music. “I don’t go in the clubs with the firearm, but I’ve had all kinds of things come up,” he explains. “I’ve been followed many times, to my motel room — been busted in on once, and I handled that all right, but it made me really aware of what’s going on.”
Born in Corsicana, Texas, Billy Joe Shaver truly was raised in a beer joint called Green Gables, where his mother worked as a waitress, the same spot famously mentioned in his signature tune, “Honky Tonk Heroes.” A raggedy aspirant when he first hit Music Row in 1968, Shaver resorted to guerilla tactics to get the industry’s attention. He was infamous for leaping out from behind bushes or parked cars to collar passing song publishers and A&R men, demanding to know, with hot, beery breath, when they were going to buy one of his songs.
Bobby Bare recognized Shaver’s potential (allowing him and Kris Kristofferson to alternate nights on Bare’s office couch) but Billy Joe, at the time living almost exclusively on a diet of alcohol and amphetamines, craved immediate results. He once broke up a Waylon Jennings session by confronting the singer and threatening “to kick your ass right here” unless Jennings made good on a promise to cut some of his songs.
Waylon subsequently included almost a dozen of them on his groundbreaking 1973 Honky Tonk Heroes album, which proved a critical moment for Jennings, Shaver and country music as a whole.
“Billy Joe was the snowplow for the whole outlaw movement,” says Friedman. “If Willie is the Fidel Castro, then Billy Joe is the Che Guevera. But, in a sense, Billy Joe’s motivations are purer than anybody else’s. These guys with all their gold records, sure, they’re important, but Billy Joe’s significant, and there’s a big, big difference. You can’t set out to be significant — it has to happen.” Soon, Shaver’s songs were being recorded by, among many others, Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Kristofferson.
Shaver also began releasing his own albums in 1973, yet despite some excellent tracks and high-profile producers like Kristofferson, Bare and Nelson, the albums not only didn’t generate much heat, they seemed to be a curse for the companies: Monument, MGM and Capricorn Records each went out of business shortly after releasing a Billy Joe title.
When he mended an oft-bitter, ongoing rift between himself and son Eddy, a genuine monster of guitar, their band, Shaver, released 1993’s Tramp on Your Street, a hard-rocking, soul-scouring and very-well-received masterpiece. It seemed as if Billy Joe, keeping his beak mostly out of the booze and crank, had finally achieved personal and professional security. But his son overdosed on New Year’s Eve, 2000, and, several months later, Brenda, the wife he frequently divorced and remarried, died. It seemed as if Billy Joe had been hit with some weird terminal whammy. He never faltered, though, kept working on the road and in the studio, treading a hard country path that eventually led him to the parking lot behind Papa Joe’s, with a .22 stuck in his pants, awaiting a showdown with Billy B. Coker.
“He had a bunch of demons in him, I’ll tell you that,” says Shaver. “I feared for my life. I sure didn’t want to go out that way, but it just came down to it, and I had my little pistol out in my car and I had the time to go out and get it.” Time passed, but Coker did not appear in the parking lot. “I guess he was borrowing a gun, or getting his gun together,” Shaver speculates. “They said he was in the place digging in his pocket. For some reason or another he couldn’t get it out. I don’t know. Everybody was drinking.”
Shaver claims Coker eventually ?came outside, then lunged at him. “I ?knew he was man enough and I knew ?what he was doing, and he was pointing this weapon at me, and he took too long ?to aim. I saw it — I’m sure I saw a gun — ?and I just went ahead and got off a lucky potshot. Thankfully, it didn’t really hurt him. It just went in and out, but it hurt him enough that he dropped everything. And then — of all things — he said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’?” Coker, who could not be reached by telephone, told police the attack was unprovoked.
(Shaver denies asking, “Where do you want it?” Rather, he claims to have said, “Why do you want to do that?” He also acknowledges that no gun was found on Coker. The police confiscated Shaver’s .22.)
Shaver and Canady took off immediately after the shooting. He dropped her at home in Waco.
“I made her stay there,” recalls Shaver. He didn’t want her to be an accomplice. He told her, “Don’t be packing no clothes or any shit like that. Just sit over there and shut up and I’m going on and I’ll see you later.”