When the country-rock "outlaws" were collecting their holy writings -- while Willie Nelson was waxing beatific and Guy Clark was obsessed with his vision of the vanished West as the Promised Land -- Billy Joe Shaver was carving out "Exodus," the down-and-dirty and how-it-is and keep-on-movin' of the genre.
While Kristofferson saw freedom as escape from material ties ("freedom's just another work for nothing left to lose"), Shaver knew freedom was just a good word for alienation ("freedom . . . you're as empty as my pocket and colder than the water that keeps soaking through my boots.")
It was Shaver who supplied the material for "Honky Tonk Heroes," the album through which Waylon Jennings entered into outlawdom. Shaver is the source for any number of catchphrases of the new French-and-Frye chic: He's the one who remembers the girl who "went out with two-bit gasoline" and the time when "Thunderbird was the word and the price was 40 twice." In a raddled voice that shrieks of hangovers, Shaver recalls the ache of endless excused and the whine of oversized tires and the irony of "a good Christian raisin,'," for all the good that's done him.
Shaver, and a young and middlin' band, appears through tonight at the Cellar Door.