In the wake of Merle Haggard's death last month, you might have read presumptive platitudes like "the last of the country outlaws is gone" or "country music has lost the final king from the old group of kings."
This, of course, is hogwash. As long as Billy Joe Shaver walks the Earth, outlaw country is alive and well.
Shaver, who plays Apr. 27 at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, is the guy who wrote Honky Tonk Heroes for Waylon Jennings. Not just the title track, but practically the whole album -- the one that defined "outlaw country."
Here's a guy who sawed off two fingers of his right hand when he was 21 and kept playing guitar. Who got divorced twice and married three times, all to the same woman. Who once had a heart attack on stage. Who lost his son to a heroin overdose and swiftly threatened to find his drug dealer and kill him. Who, even in his late 60s, outside a bar in Texas, got in an argument and shot another man in the face.
Live and on stage, Shaver can sing about drinking and guns and motorcycles one minute, and break your heart the next with a tender ballad like "I'm Just an Old Lump of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)." He's full of incredible stories that he tells between songs, and his recent album Long in the Tooth is among his best -- a reflective album with a whole lotta fire beneath it.
And while Merle Haggard wasn't actually the "last of the country greats," Shaver is nonetheless part of a sadly dying breed. All the more reason to catch him live when he plays Wednesday, April 27, at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley. Details here.