Billy Joe Shaver, pioneer of ‘Outlaw Country’ movement, dead at 81

Billy Joe Shaver, a contributor to the 1970s’ “outlaw country” movement and the man Willie Nelson once called “the greatest living songwriter,” passed away on Wednesday. He was 81.

Shaver died of a stroke at Waco, Texas’ Ascension Providence Hospital, Variety reported.

The Texas native became a name in country music with his 1973 debut album, “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” now a classic the “Outlaw Country” genre that emerged in response to country music’s commercialization at the time.

He rose to further prominence after Kris Kristofferson recorded his song “Good Christian Soldier.”

The singer and songwriter had a penchant for writing tracks which other, more well-known country artists then recorded, including “Live Forever” — which country supergroup The Highwaymen recorded in 1995 — and other numbers covered by Elvis Presley, David Allan Coe, Tom T. Hall, Patty Loveless, Doug Kershaw, Johnny Paycheck and Jerry Lee Lewis, according to Variety.

He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006, received the Americana Music Association’s lifetime achievement award for songwriting in 2004, wrote a memoir in 2005 called “Honky Tonk Hero,” had a cameo in the 1996 Robert Duvall film “The Apostle,” was the subject of a 2004 documentary called “A Portrait of Billy Joe,” and in all recorded 17 studio albums, most recently 2014’s “Long in the Tooth.”

Stories from his personal life were also prolific in their own right. Shaver dropped out of high school, married and divorced one woman three times, another woman twice, had a heart attack on stage, shot a man in the face outside a bar (for which he claimed self-defense and was acquitted), lost chunks of three fingers in a sawmill accident and lost his son to a heroin overdose.

“Billy Joe talked the way a modern cowboy would speak, if he stepped out of the West and lived today,” Waylon Jennings wrote of Shaver, according to Variety.

“He had a command of Texas lingo, his world as down to earth and real as the day is long, and he wore his Lone Star birthright like a badge.”

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