Jonny Fritz (the recording artist formerly known as Jonny Corndawg) spoke with 73-year old country music icon Billy Joe Shaver, who just released his 21st album Live At Billy Bob’s. No one was harmed in the making of this interview.
I was over at Shooter Jenning’s house last night and I told him I had to go home and get up to interview Billy Joe. And he said, “Ask him about that hundred dollar bill he gave Waylon.”
I ran into Waylon down here at the Dripping Springs Reunion, Fourth of July, the first one they had. I was in a trailer, and they were passing guitars around. They get around to me so I started playing “Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me.”
So Waylon comes out of the back of the trailer, where he was doing God-knows-what, and says, “Who’s song is that?” I said, “It’s mine.” He said, “I’m gonna record that.” I said, “You sure can.” And he said, “You got anymore of them cowboy songs?” I said, “Yeah, I got a sack full of ‘em.” He said, “Well, come on up to Nashville and I’ll record a whole album of ‘em.” And I took him at his word; we’re both Texans.
Anyway, I got up there and chased him around for about six months. He’d avoid me, in other words. Finally, one night I had my guitar with me and I was at one of his shows and there were people in there just lining the walls. Waylon got wind that I was there, and he gives someone named Midnight a hundred dollar bill folded up, and Midnight comes back there and says, “Waylon said to give you this.” And I took the hundred dollar bill, gave it back to him, and said, “You tell Waylon to stick this up his ass.”
He went in there and told Waylon – well, Waylon got mad as hell. Now Waylon can get mad. He’s crazy, too. And he had two bikers on each arm. And he said, “Hoss, what did you want?” And there are people all along the walls everywhere. And I said, “I want you to at least listen to these songs, or if you don’t I’m gonna kick your ass right here in front of everybody.” And I had no idea if I could or not, I didn’t know, I just was at the end of my rope and kinda crazy. And those bikers started coming towards me, and Waylon knew they’d tear my head off, so he grabbed them and held them back. He comes up there and got me in one of them pinchers, you know how you can pinch a person right behind the elbow if you know how, right there and it kinda paralyzes you. He says, “Come here, hoss,” and he took me in this room that was vacant.
He said “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do for you,” to make a long story shorter [laughs]. “I’m gonna let you play one of them songs, and if I like it, I’ll let you play another one. If I don’t like it, I’m gonna say I don’t like it, and you’re gonna hit that door and we ain’t never gonna see each other again.”
I said that’s fine, and I played “Ain’t No God In Mexico.” He said that was all right, and just kept letting me go … By the time I got to “Honky Tonk Heroes,” he slapped himself on the leg and said “I know what I gotta do.” He went in there and changed all of Nashville around by bringing his band in and getting rid of those musicians he had in there. And Chet Atkins [Waylon’s usual producer] had a damn fit, but Waylon really stuck his neck out, man. And it wasn’t just for me. He was sticking his neck out because he had a beat and a sound that was so great, and I’m so glad that happened for him, because I don’t think he would’ve brought his band in if it hadn’t been for these songs.
Why do you think Nashville was so strict on having studio musicians instead of a band?
They had a machine that was working for them. They weren’t none of them greedy, they just wanted to stay on top. But I think it was the first album that went gold and sold a million. Chet finally came down off his high horse and apologized to me. He gave me a fit until that thing was done … I can’t take that much credit because he took all the chances. I didn’t have a thing to lose. He had everything to lose.
You’ve got this new record, Live at Billy Bob’s. Are you going to do a tour to promote the record?
Yes, I am. I’ve got [another album] already actually written and ready to roll. But I keep writing a new song that’s better than the ones I got. I’m gonna go over to my guitar player’s studio and finish a bunch. We got a bunch of stuff recorded.
Since you’ve been doing this for so long, I’m sure you’ve been kicked out of a lot of places when you go on tour. Are there towns and places you’re not allowed to come back to?
We haven’t been kicked out of anywhere. One time though, you know this one place out there in East Texas, a real famous place, Hank Williams and all them played there. My son Eddy Shaver used to play with me, and he was loud.
He started warming up and the guy came out and called me into his office. He started counting out the money on the desk. I said, “Man, that’s real good of you to pay me in advance.” And he said, “No, you don’t understand. You’re not playing in my place.” I said, “Okay. This money’s mine, right?” He said, “Yep, take it and leave,” and I said “I sure will.” So I had the night off.
Of course, it didn’t help none that I had to pick up this bass guy. And I didn’t know him too well, but he was a heroin addict and he was running around there asking everybody how to score some heroin. I didn’t know it, but stuff like that happens and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But it was mostly Eddy crankin’ up like that, ‘cause he could peel paint with that thing. That’s the way it goes.
Have you ever had any stalkers?
Oh God yeah, I’ve had a lot of stalkers. Right now, I’m riding in the car with my ex-wife and, I don’t know, we stalk each other I guess. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, if she don’t kill me I probably will. I got it coming anyway. I’m a rascal. I know I am.
I was glad to hear everything was cleared up after the Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon incident.
I cleared that up in that song “Wacko From Waco.” I’m glad I did, because if you’ll read the transcript you’ll read that just about everybody who testified thought it was firecrackers they were hearing out there …
How’d you manage to not kill the guy, shooting him in the face?
I don’t know. God was with me, man. God was with me. [The guy I shot] has still got the damn bullet in his mouth. I wasn’t really sour about it, but I just want my bullet back. I guess I’m gonna have to report it. It’s kind of funny but in a way it’s really tragic cause I could’ve killed him. The lawyers said I would’ve had a better chance if I would’ve killed him, ‘cause we would’ve had one less witness. And he was the only witness, really.
My lawyer was badass, man. I had a great lawyer. He’s bad, man. I’ll tell you what. You know that rich feller that cut somebody’s head off and then drove around New York with the head on the seat? My lawyer went and jumped in the car with him with that head right in the middle and talked him into coming in, and then he represented him and got him off.
If it wasn’t for him, I guess I’d be in jail. But everyone tried to railroad me. I was innocent, and I would’ve followed that all the way to the end of my life. When I’m in the right, you can’t whoop me. But if I’m in the wrong, I’ll try to talk my way out of it, and if I can’t I’ll fight, just not as hard as I could. I ain’t lost one yet.
It seems like you’ve been given a great new chance to make another record.
I’ve got a new lease on life and everything’s wonderful for me.
When you were driving away from Papa Joe’s after shooting this guy, did you think you’d killed him? Were you thinking, “Shit, I just killed a guy, and now I’m gonna have to deal with it?”
I knew I didn’t kill him because he turned around and said he was sorry. That’s all he had to do to keep from getting killed. He walked back inside, and I knew not to walk in there ‘cause the lady had already said she had a sawed-off shotgun and she didn’t mind using it. He had guns and they had guns and I figured the best thing for me to do would be to get out of there.