Friday Five: Billy Joe Shaver

Juli Thanki | August 17th, 2012

Yesterday was Billy Joe Shaver’s 73rd birthday, so today’s Friday Five is a belated celebration of his songwriting. Everyone from Tex Ritter to Bob Dylan to Patty Loveless has recorded his work, so it was a bit of an effort to pick five favorite Shaver covers from such an extensive list. What are yours?

5. John Hartford – “You Asked Me To”

“Let the world call me a fool / But if things are right with me and you / That’s all that matters and I’ll do / Anything you asked me to.” Now that’s how you write a love song. This one’s a Shaver-Waylon Jennings collaboration — who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall when those two were writing?


4. Willie Nelson – “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”

Willie was made to sing this song.


3. Waylon Jennings – “Black Rose”

Shaver had a hand in all but one of the songs on Jennings’ 1973 seminal outlaw country album Honky Tonk Heroes. With lyrics like “The devil made me do it the first time / The second time I done it on my own,it must have been pretty obvious back then that the unknown Shaver was a special songwriting talent.


2. Emmylou Harris – “Old Five and Dimers Like Me”

Tom T. Hall’s version was my favorite until I saw Harris sing this one the other night. She said it was a song she’d wanted to record for some time, but felt she had to wait until she was at least 60. Makes sense: “Middle-Aged Five and Dimers Like Me” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


1. Johnny Cash – “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal”

Being this optimistic seems like a nice way to live. Better to become a diamond — or at least strive to become one — than stay a lump of coal in some engine room.


  1. Adam Sheets
    August 17, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I’d have substituted Cash’s version of “Chunk Of Coal” for John Anderson’s and Hartford’s version of “You Asked Me To” for Elvis Presley’s. Otherwise good list, although really anything from the “Honky Tonk Heroes” album would have worked.

  2. Leeann Ward
    August 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

    It’s only been a couple years or possibly less since I’ve become a Billy Joe Shaver fan, but I’m glad I’ve finally come around.

    Some of my favorite Shaver covers/compositions are, in no particular order,: John Anderson, “Old Chunk of Coal; Mark Stewart and the Bastard Sons, ” Old Chunk of Coal”; Emmylou Harris, “Old Five and Dimers like Me”; Bruce Robison (feat. Kelly Willis) “Ride Me Down Easy”; The Gourds, “Omaha”; Nanci Griffith, “You Asked Me To”; Patty Loveless, “When the Falling Angels Fly”; Reckless Kelly, “Hottest Thing in Town”; Todd Snider, “Good News Blues”; and the Waylon Jennings Honky Tonk Heroes album.:)

  3. Ben Foster
    August 17, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I didn’t know that Shaver wrote “When the Fallen Angels Fly.” I love that song.

  4. Arlene
    August 17, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Juli- It sounds as though you must have attended the Emmylou Harris/John Prine concert at Wolf Trap on Wednesday. I’ve been wanting to see them as a double bill for a while because in addition to great solo sets from both, I understand Emmylou’s been singing the Iris DeMent part with him on “In Spite of Ourselves” and that when performing together, they also duet on “Angel From Montgomery” and “Magnolia Wind.” If you were there, I’m jealous.

    • Juli Thanki
      August 17, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Yep, I was there. A great show, one of the best I’ve seen this summer. Here are a couple YouTube clips of Prine and Emmylou singing together that night. The videos aren’t that great, but the sound is decent:

      “In Spite of Ourselves”
      “Angel from Montgomery”

      Another treat was when Emmylou brought out John Starling to sing “The Other Side of Life.”

  5. luckyoldsun
    August 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I’m surprised that everyone seems to have missed the most significant Shaver cover of recent vintage:

    He nails that to the wall. Pretty much the quintessential Billy Joe cover.

  6. Donald
    August 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Re: Prine and Emmylou- I especially like when the yellow ball of light on the left sings. Or, is she on the right.

    • Juli Thanki
      August 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      I imagine the ethereal glow that perpetually surrounds Emmylou Harris makes it hard for her to show up on camera.

  7. Donald
    August 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Marty’s version of If I Gave My Soul has long been a favourite. Mark Chesnutt’s rendition of Black Rose is pretty impressive, too. Dale Ann’s Live Forever is one of the best. A great Friday Five, Juli.

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