Johnny Paycheck and Billy Joe Shaver, two versions of progressive country music, played at the Cellar Door last night. While Paycheck's version seemed glib and cliched, Shaver's came over as true, rough and determined as a horned toad in the mid-day sun.
Paycheck's outlaw stage bravado tended to overwhelm his material all night. Most of the songs were fastpaced and designed to showcase the technical proficiency of his band, The West Texas Music Co., a skilled but facile bunch that churns out the kind of country-blues-rock amalgam that makes progressive a bad word.
Paycheck's singing, once full of the sensitive phrasings of George Jones and Leftie Frizell, sounded as hollow as an acoustic guitar. His recent hits, "Take This Job and Shove It" and ME and the IRS," sound like agressive sloganeering rather than heartfelt complaints, An enthusiastic audience, however, gave Paycheck more rebel yells than he deserved.
Much better was Shaver, who gained fame a decade ago as one of the new breed of progressive songwriters in Nashville. Last night he proved his performing career was no joke either.
Shaver's singing isn't pretty. He has a tough, dry and bluesy Texas voice. Some of the originals he sang, like "Fast Train to Georgia" and "Black Rose," are as good as modern country gets. It was funky country material like "Black Rose," a song about an interracial love affair, that helped to put the truth and grit back in the country before the "Hee Haw" sensibility completely sterilized the music.