In August, Texas singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver released “Long in the Tooth,” his first album since 2008. Shaver, who hit a landmark birthday on Aug. 16, really loves his new batch of songs. As usual, they’re autobiographical.
“To be honest, you almost have to write about yourself,” Shaver said from Waco, his home in the heart of Texas. “Because if you write about somebody else, you’re just speculating and judging a lot.
“I’m 75 years of age, but my head’s about 19. It keeps on turning when them pretty girls go by. But the album is good work, and I don’t want to ever put out a bad song.”
Shaver’s been acknowledged as one of country music’s great songwriters since the 1973 release of “Honky Tonk Heroes,” Waylon Jennings’ classic outlaw country album. Shaver wrote or co-wrote 10 of its 11 songs.
Shaver’s songs, recorded by himself, Jennings, Johnny Cash, the Allman Brothers, Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Presley and many more, include “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me,” “Ride Me Down Easy,” “You Asked Me To,” “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train” and “Honky Tonk Heroes.”
Prior to the making of “Long in the Tooth,” Shaver uncharacteristically stopped writing songs for several years. The layoff followed a 2007 altercation outside of a bar in Lorena, Texas, during which the singer shot a man, inflicting a nonfatal wound.
“I was really bitter, because I was falsely accused,” Shaver said. “And they indicted me at the last minute.”
Shaver stayed on pins and needles while the situation dragged on.
“And I just didn’t feel like writing anything during that time,” he said. “I was afraid it’d be too bitter.”
“The truth came out. I knew it would. I wrote a song about it later called ‘Wacko from Waco.’ ”
A great admirer of Nelson, Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams Sr., Shaver enjoys writing “healing songs,” as he calls them.
“I don’t force them out, but I’m coming up with these healing songs,” he said. “That’s a great thing to do, and I’m just real good at it.”
Shaver’s longtime friend and fellow performer, Todd Snider, encouraged him to make “Long in the Tooth.”
“Todd kicked me in the rear, on the telephone, and made me get on up there to Nashville,” Shaver said.
Gary Nicholson, who played guitar with Shaver years ago, and Ray Kennedy produced the album. It features all new Shaver songs, some written in the recording studio, including “Hard to be an Outlaw” (featuring Nelson). Shaver wrote “Sunbeam Special” on the spot, too. “Gary Nicholson was playing the hell out of that guitar and I just throwed them words right in,” Shaver said.
Besides Nelson, guest stars include Leon Russell, Tony Joe White and Shawn Camp.
“They all know me and were happy to see me back in the saddle,” Shaver said. “I can’t thank them enough and they’re all great. I was in their shadows, but I’m so happy that album turned out so good.”
In addition to writing hundreds of songs in his lifetime, Shaver has written a storeroom full of poetry.
“I like to write,” he said. “It’s the cheapest psychiatrist there is, and I still need one.”
Doing his music, writing songs, helped him survive through tragedy and hardship, including the death of his wife in 1999, and the death of his son and musical partner, Eddy, in 2000.
“Yes, sir. That’s my friend. God blessed me with that talent, and I’ve done the best I could with it.”