Billy Joe Shaver, the illegal country singer-songwriter, died in his native Texas after a stroke. He was 81 years old. Shaver’s career spanned nearly 50 years and he was considered one of the defining voices of the outlaw country genre.
Shaver was born in Coriscana, Texas, in 1939. In the 1960s, he moved to Houston and attended the Old Quarter, a nightclub where he met Townes Van Zandt. The friendship led him to Nashville, where he was signed as a writer for the publishing house of the singer-songwriter Bobby Bare. He met Waylon Jennings in 1971 and wrote almost all of the songs on Jennings’ 1973 outlaw country classic Honky Tonk Heroes.
Shaver also released his own debut album, Old Five and Dimers Like Me, in 1973. In the 1970s, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, David Allan Coe, Patty Loveless and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Shaver had a tumultuous personal life that mirrored the illegal lifestyle depicted in his music: In 2007, Shaver shot a man in the face outside a bar in Lorena, Texas and was eventually acquitted of aggravated assault after alleging self-defense. He later wrote a song about the incident called “Wacko From Waco”.
Shaver was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. In the same year, the Americana Music Association awarded Shaver first prize for life’s work for songwriting. Shaver released his last album, Long in the Tooth, in 2014.