Just under a year ago, Racket predicted a rosy future for Brad Turcotte's local label Compadre Records, and like blind pigs, even lowly music scribes sometimes sniff out acorns. So far Turcotte has made Racket look like the genius he thinks he is after his third shot of Herradura.
Turcotte's booze-soaked Brewed in Texas country compo, released after his Texas Road Trip road songs compilation, sold well enough to crack Billboard's country chart. Besides Cory Morrow, no other independent Houston-based country (or rock) album has pulled off a Billboard charting in a long, long time.
Next, Turcotte signed Hayes Carll, and all the Woodlands-bred singer did was earn two nominations in the Press Music Awards, get named 2002's best new artist by KIKK DJ Leslie T. Travis and win a ringing encomium from Jack Ingram, who has said Carll's Flowers and Liquor sneaked up on him and knocked him on his ass.
Former Great Divide front man Mike McClure and longtime Waylon Jennings lead guitarist Billy Ray Reynolds also have signed with Compadre and released their solo debuts. Susan Gibson and Cross Canadian Ragweed's Cody Canada guested on McClure's Twelve Pieces, while Merle Haggard dropped by for a duet with Reynolds.
Not a bad first year for Turcotte. It's been so successful, in fact, that he's had to move his office out of his Galleria-area town home. The new casa de Compadre will be in the Warehouse District. Call it the price of success. "It's kinda weird to have someone like Billy Joe Shaver drop by your town home," Turcotte notes.
If you're wondering why the greatest living Texas songwriter has been hanging out by the Galleria, there's a simple explanation. Turcotte has all but signed him to a deal. By the time you read this, the deal should be done, and preproduction work on Billy Joe's next album already will have begun.
This week, Turcotte and Shaver are meeting with masterful roots music producer R.S. Field, whose credits include Shaver's Tramp on Your Street, Sonny Landreth's Outward Bound and Scott Miller's Thus Always to Tyrants. "We're sitting down with R.S. and looking through all of Billy Joe's new songs," says Turcotte. "He supposedly has 40 or 50 new songs that he wants to cull down to about 12 for the album."
On how he landed Shaver, Turcotte is modest, though he does credit himself with knowing when to apply the personal touch: "R.S. called me for a proposal, and I guess they liked what I had to say. Then I followed up with a phone call to Billy Joe, and he liked that. He said no one from a label had ever called him personally. It had always been attorneys. He's the nicest guy to talk to, and we had a lot of the same ideas."
One of those ideas is to rerecord Shaver's "Good Ol' USA," a celebration of American industry and how it helped defeat the Nazis. Post-September 11, the tunes takes on a whole new layer of meaning, and rumor has it that a raspy-voiced bard by the name of Bob Dylan will be duetting with Billy Joe on the remake.
"I haven't got a confirmation on that yet," says Shaver from his Corsicana home. "But it's in the works, yeah."
A demo of the remake (sans Dylan) is already on the Web, Shaver says. Just don't ask him to download it himself. "You can pull it down from your Internet thing off Billyjoeshaver.com. I'm scared to death of it. I'm just now trying to figure out my phone. Off and on, that's all I can do with this little ol' thing I carry around."
His voice begins to trail off as he ponders his cell phone. "Turn it on. Turn it off," he mumbles.
"It's high-tech," he suddenly adds, laughing uproariously.
The idea to recut "USA" came from an unlikely source: 60 Minutes curmudgeon Andy Rooney. (Shaver's a big fan of the bushy-browed sage. "I like him," he says. "He's an old guy, but he's real wise.") One of Rooney's remarks resonated with Shaver. "I heard him talking way back yonder, no, not way back yonder, but back aways, I think even before the tragedy," Shaver recounts. "He said, 'You know, we need to be doing something that'll cause people to think of us the way they always did.' And when he said that I thought to myself, 'You know, I've got that song.' "
That song is the antithesis of Lee Greenwood's wretched ballad "God Bless the USA." Where the latter offers only bland platitudes, Shaver gives us wry observations on why it is, exactly, that this country is the most powerful on earth. What we do with that power is up to the listeners. "It's almost a commercial for the USA, and you know, we need to get back to tradin' and lovin' instead of shootin' and dyin' and all that stuff," Shaver says. "Even if we have to trade with bullets flying around our heads, we have to start doin' it. All the way around the world, I'm talkin' about."
Shaver has high hopes for the tune. "It'll be around forever if we can get it out there and done correctly," he says. "I have all the faith in the world in R.S. Field. If anyone can get it out there and done correctly, he can do it. He maintains quality, and that's what I'm into."
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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