Sharing the bill with Reverend Horton Heat, the Blasters, John Doe, and others, country outlaw Billy Joe Shaver is set to close out this year’s Roadshow Revival: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash in Ventura’s Mission Park. The event, which spans two stages and two days, takes place on June 27-28, and the 75-year-old Shaver is excited to play some new songs, some old songs, and some songs so old they’re new again.
What’s the secret to being an outlaw? And staying an outlaw?
[Laughs] It’s more like an outcast, to tell you the truth. When we started doing those songs — when Waylon [Jennings] did “Honky Tonk Heroes” — it was so different and Chet Atkins tried his best to stop it. He didn’t like it at all. He thought it was going to mess up everything they had going, and he had something going that was pretty cool with the sequined suits and all that stuff. And it really was a drastic change. The songs were a little bit rougher, had a little more edge on them — as a matter of fact, a whole lot more edge on them. It changed things from sequined suits to blue jeans, really. He didn’t want that. Not because he thought there was nothing to it, but because it would mess up what they had going. Soon as it hit gold and platinum, he changed his mind.
He kind of hated me, for a long time. Finally, we got on a show together, and he was sitting right by me, and he apologized for everything. He’d kind of made my life miserable for a while. It didn’t bother me that much because I knew he was honest about his feelings. And I was, too. I wasn’t trying to run nothing. I was just lucky to get in there. I just wanted to be part of something. And I’m so happy that I did. A lot of people are building on that, too. It’s a good foundation.
What do you think of the guys coming up these days, like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton? They’re leaning back to you guys a bit.
Yeah, I like that. That’s the greatest form of flattery — imitation. Those guys are great. I wish I was young again and in that pack, then I’d find out if I was any good at all or not because they’re damn good. I enjoy those fellas. [Laughs] My thought on it is, everybody built up on stuff, but I think they went way out yonder with what they were doing before all this other stuff happened. I think it’s fixing to roll over. About every 20 or 30 years or so, everything seems like it kind of rolls over. And it looks like these ol’ boys are coming along at just about the right time. So am I. I’m still writing, the same way I always did. It’s timeless stuff, to tell you the truth, and I try to keep it that way. I don’t go to no pains to do it, but it seems like I’m lucky enough that I can do that naturally.
What’s the difference between the songs and the songwriters when it comes to writing about beer versus whiskey?
[Laughs] Well, beer is cheaper, but whiskey you don’t get to remember a lot. I know — I used to be a whiskey drinker. [Laughs] A lot of bottled courage comes with that whiskey. With beer, it’s kind of like a club people are in that drink beer. They really are nice ol’ boys. They get around. They sling the bull a lot. Whiskey drinkers are a pretty serious bunch, but they get really drunk and fall all over everybody. [Laughs] I quit doing that, but I used to drink whiskey.
[Laughs] How has your audience changed over the years? Is it the same old folks coming out or do you keep adding on to it?
Well, a lot of them are old, as a matter of fact. [Laughs] A lot of them have grown up with me. But, then again, the majority of them are young. A whole bunch of them are coming because their grandpa sent ’em, and their grandma. My groupies are mostly grandmas. [Laughs] These people are sending their kids because the kids are coming up, talking to me, saying they were raised on my music. My music was blaring while they were growing up. Well, it was my songs, but it was Waylon Jennings who I believe was the greatest singer who ever lived, or ever will live. I just can’t imagine anybody being any better. He just knocked me plumb out. He was really great.
What’s it like for you to play a festival, like Roadshow Revival?
I get a lot of respect from everybody, especially the players. Most of them know me, which is different than it used to be when I first started. Like I said, we were kind of outcasts. They didn’t want to see us do good. Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon… there’s a bunch of us. I can’t say I actually did anything on my own because I was just doing the best I could. I was lucky that I could make a living at this because I love it so much. It’s still like a hobby. It’s the cheapest psychiatrist there is. God knows I still need one, so everything works out good that way.
I’d imagine that the traveling is hard, but the music must be worth it.
I love to travel, though. That’s the difference. If I weren’t doing music, I couldn’t afford to travel. And traveling’s what really jogs me. It makes me feel good. And I like meeting new people. It’s pretty nice, really. I like it. I’m gonna bop til I drop! I just love doing it. These old songs I wrote way back yonder… I can’t get away without doing those songs. Because most of the audience is young and the songs are usually older than they are, they never have heard ’em. It’s new to them. The songs are so old, they’re new. I enjoy singing ’em because they’re like little capsules. They just take me back. I get to feel a whole lot like I used to when I wrote the song. That’s just really a kick.
Do you hang out and check out some of the other artists playing at festivals?
Oh, of course, yeah. It’s about the only time you get to have a family reunion. When we go out and play, everybody says, “Oh, I bet you enjoy being around this one and that one.” And I say, “Man, we all go in different directions all the time.” The only time we get to see each other is when we have these festivals. It’s like a homecoming or something. It’s a family reunion and you get to enjoy meeting new guys that you always wanted to meet. And you get to see old friends, too.
This article originally appeared in the VC Reporter.