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For Shaver, quality is about maintaining the sound that he and his late son Eddy created. Told that six years ago Eddy's guitar-playing at a Nashville gig was the first thing to stir the then-in-utero Racket Junior, Shaver laughs. "Yeah, Eddy could move him. Bless his heart. I sure miss ol' Eddy. I'm trying to keep my music like it was."
Asked to describe that style, Shaver has a long answer and a short answer. The long one has to do with "pushing chords" and "dynamics." The short answer combines Billy Joe's kick-ass country and Eddy's heavy-metal honky-tonk. "Kick-ass country, heavy-metal honky-tonk -- that should cover it," Shaver concludes.
Even as skilled a guitarist as Eddy's successor Jesse Taylor had a hard time mastering the style, Shaver says. "Jesse's really old-school," he says. "It took him a long time, but he learned it."
Shaver adds that Taylor is in a California alcohol treatment center. He says Taylor is sober for the first time in 30 years and sounding happy. "I just can't wait to see him, and it was big of him to go and do that," Shaver says. "He's been drinking all his life. It was a thing that he inherited. He's a Czechoslovakian guy, and they think they can drink forever. My stepfather was Czech, and he drank himself to death, or smoked himself to death. I think it was the emphysema that killed him, but the smoking goes right along with the drinking. You might as well just tack a cigarette on the side of a beer when you give it to somebody."
As is well known, Shaver fought and won his own battle with the bottle years ago. What is more obscure is Houston's major role in that victory. Shaver moved his family from Nashville to Tanglewood after he became a born-again Christian. At the time, his career was going well, though his personal life and health were in shambles. "I was in terrible shape, and that was when I went up on the mountain out there and got right with God, and I was comin' down this big cliff in the middle of the night. He just gave me half of that song 'Old Chunk of Coal.' Then I went and got my family and told 'em we were moving, and boy were they mad. We had dug in there in Nashville and I was hot as a firecracker, and I said, 'Naw. If we stay here, we're gonna die.' So I loaded up a couple of U-Hauls and we went to Houston, of all places, because I guess I knew I wouldn't be able to get around there in all that traffic."
Well, thanks, Billy Joe, I guess. Houston's a great place to get your life back together because it's too traffic-clogged to go out boozing? It worked for him. "I went down there and went cold turkey on everything," he says. "I had been doing everything that wasn't right. I lost down to about 172 pounds. I thought I was gonna keep on losing, and about that time Willie called me. Willie seems to know something about me."
Indeed he does. It was Nelson who snatched Shaver out of the gates of hell when his son died as well. In both instances, he saved Shaver by putting him back on stage. "Willie called me and said, 'Why don't you just play some in front of me and Emmylou Harris and get back into it?' So all of us struck back into it and it was good, and I kinda did a recovery."
Shaver views the period as a death and rebirth. He seems to miss the old hell-raising Billy Joe, though he knows better than to invite him back into his life. "The old cowboy died," he says. "He was a strong enough fellow and wise enough to know that he had to die for me to go on, and I was able to go on."
He has gone on indeed, through a series of tragedies that would have destroyed many a lesser man. In the space of two years, he lost his mother, wife and the son he cherished. "I have to figure with Eddy that he belonged to God before he belonged to anybody," he says. "I was with him when he gave his soul to Jesus. [It] don't go away. He don't let you just go away. It might look like it, but He don't. And God don't make crap."
Neither does Billy Joe Shaver.
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