8 Songs You Didn’t Know Billy Joe Shaver Wrote For Other Artists

The name of outlaw songsmith Billy Joe Shaver didn’t rise to the heights of his outlying peers like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. However, his songwriting played a bigger part in the outlaw country music movement than any burly baritone and shadowy figure in a cowboy hat.

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The songs he penned for others were just as significant to the time as they are today, having been given life over and over by innumerable acts. Below are just 8 of the songs Billy Joe Shaver wrote for other artists.

1. “Hard to Be an Outlaw” – Willie Nelson

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

It’s hard to be an outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore, the Shaver-penned “Hard To Be An Outlaw” mourns.

A relatively new release compared to Shaver’s storied catalog, “Hard To Be An Outlaw” was first recorded by Willie Nelson in 2014. A few months later, the two recorded a duet of the tune, a rendition Shaver released on his own album, the 2014 record, Long in the Tooth.

2. “Sweet Mama” – The Allman Brothers Band

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

Sweet mama, lay your burden down, plays the blues-induced “Sweet Mama.”

The Allman Brothers Band first recorded the Shaver song in 1975 for their album, Win, Lose or Draw. The country songsmith would release a rendition of the tune over a decade later in 1987.

3. “Ain’t No God in Mexico” – Waylon Jennings

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

There ain’t no God in Mexico / Ain’t no way to understand / How that border crossing feeling / Makes a fool out of a man, plays “Ain’t No God in Mexico.”

Outlaw legend Waylon Jennings famously recorded Shaver’s “Honky Tonk Heroes,” but he also made classics out of several other tunes that the songsmith penned. Jennings first recorded “Ain’t No God in Mexico” in 1973. Shaver would record and release his own version three years later.

4. “Ragged Old Truck” – Johnny Paycheck

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

I’m thinkin’ ’bout crankin’ my ragged old truck up / And haulin’ myself into town, plays “Ragged Old Truck.”

Johnny Paycheck first recorded and released the Shaver tune, “Ragged Old Truck,” in 1979. The songwriter would release his own version of the now country classic a couple of years later in 1981.

5. “Jesus Christ, What a Man” – The Oak Ridge Boys

Written by Billy Joe Shaver and Bobby Bare

Sing me more songs about Jesus, my Saviour / Jesus Christ, oh, what a man, the Shaver, and Bobby Bare collaboration exalts.

The Shaver-Bare dream team wrote “Jesus Christ, What a Man.” The Oak Ridge Boys were the first to record the tune in 1971 with Bare and Shaver each releasing their own versions of the song shortly after.

6. “A Restless Wind” – Bobby Bare

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

That a restless wind is calling me again / Her warming hand is tugging at my soul, goes the Shaver-penned “A Restless Wind.”

Bobby Bare was known for recording many Shaver tunes, including “A Restless Wind,” which he first released in 1973. Bare was also the first to record the Shaver’s classic, “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Going to Be a Diamond Someday).”

7. “Bottom Dollar” – Jerry Lee Lewis

Written by Billy Joe Shaver and Panama Red

Oh bottom dollar, moans the piano-punctuated waltz.

Written by Shaver with songwriter Panama Red, the swinging tune, “Bottom Dollar,” was first recorded in 1972 by piano man Jerry Lee Lewis.

8. “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” – Tom T. Hall

Written by Billy Joe Shaver

Too far and too high and too deep ain’t too much to be / Too much ain’t enough for old five and dimers like me, plays the country classic “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.”

Songteller Tom T. Hall was the first to record Shaver’s iconic “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me” in 1972, then he went on to release Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” a year later. The song has since been covered again and again with everyone adding their flair to the Shaver standard.

Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

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