He hitchhiked to Nashville and began writing songs so roughneck that Waylon Jennings covered them, until his 1973 debut “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” helped launch the outlaw country movement.
“When I saw Jeff Bridges’ character in ‘Crazy Heart’ get out of his pickup and pour that orange juice carton out – which he’d been taking a leak in – I knew that was taken from my life, touring,” he says.
The irascible Texan’s new recording “Long in the Tooth” features gravelly originals like “American Me,” “Last Call for Alcohol” and “Hard to Be An Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson that mourns the fading of their once-vibrant music brand.
Along the way, Shaver had a heart attack onstage, penned his autobiography “Honky Tonk Hero,” was namechecked by Bob Dylan in “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” and appeared in films such as “The Apostle.” He even sang the theme to Cartoon Network’s surreal “Squidbillies.”
But his own legend actually overshadowed him. He says, “When I first came to Nashville, I didn’t know what a lawyer was. So if somebody got in my face or talked to me bad, I’d just punch them in the mouth, and that worked out all right for me. I don’t do that now, but for some reason people think I will.”
A 2007 Lorena, Texas roadhouse incident grew with each retelling, wherein the singer – after arguing with another patron – supposedly pulled a gun on the man in the parking lot and inquired, “Where do you want it?” After shooting him in the face, the yarn went, Shaver growled, “Nobody tells me to shut up.”
Reality was slightly different, says Shaver, who proved self-defense and was acquitted in 2010 – but not before Dale Watson recorded the song “Where Do You Want It.”
“Dale and I are good friends, but he almost got me put in the penitentiary,” adds Shaver. “That song was so popular that the judge and all that bunch said that I’d said that. And I said ‘I didn’t, either! Dale just thought it sounded like a good song title!’”
IF YOU GO
Billy Joe Shaver
Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $24 to $26
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org