20 Years Ago, Billy Joe Shaver Survives Heart Attack on Stage
20 years ago today (August 25th, 2001), Billy Joe Shaver had a heart attack right there on the stage of the historic Gruene Hall in Texas while performing. He thought it was the end, and in some ways, wanted it to be. It came at a dark time in his life, where both his mother and wife Brenda had passed away in 1999, and then his son and guitar player Eddy Shaver died of a drug overdose on New Year’s Eve, 2000.
It was a steamy night at the legendary dance hall, and at first Shaver though his chest was just congested due to the dance hall’s poor ventilation. When he figured out what was happening, he embraced the moment.
“I said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting me die in the oldest honky-tonk in Texas.’ I wanted to die. All this had happened, and I was going home to see Eddy, Brenda, and my mother.”
But Billy Joe Shaver survived, and reportedly didn’t even seek medical treatment for four days afterwards. Talk about one tough knot of hickory. Finally when he made it to the hospital, they performed angioplasty to keep him alive, but doctors said he needed a quadruple bypass or his heart could give out at any moment. Meanwhile Shaver had a three-week tour of Australia booked with Kinky Friedman called “Two For Texas” coming up.
At first, Shaver called up Kinky and said he was out, citing the heart attack and the necessary surgery. Kinky reportedly said, “So what? You’re going to ruin my career.” Then apparently Willie Nelson intervened, telling Shaver that getting away from all his troubles and catching some fresh air would be best. Shaver ultimately agreed.
“The doctors wanted him to have the surgery, but he said no,” Kinky Friedman explains. “And they didn’t want him going to Australia with Kinky. That it was the wrong thing to do. But Billy Joe was in a dark place; the recent family tragedies, the health concerns. Staying home with the curtains drawn and all its temptations seemed as risky as going. Willie and I both agreed, the best therapy he could have was to get out and have a good time.”
And so bad ticker and all, off Billy Joe Shaver went on the tour. Each night, Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman would flip a coin to see who went on first, and every night, Billy Joe Shaver played the show like it was his last, because it very well could have been. But he ultimately survived. Two days after arriving back in the United States after the tour, Billy Joe had his quadruple bypass.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of Billy Joe Shaver nearly dying on stage, it’s been announced that Omnivore Recordings will be releasing a newly-remastered and repackaged edition of the recording Billy and Kinky made on the legendary Australian tour called Live Down Under on October 15th.
The package will include new liner notes compiled from the tour diary On the Road Too Long, by chauffeur, journalist and Nu Country FM guru David Dawson, and of course 22 live tracks taken as highlights of a three-night stint from the tour.
There have been many country performers over the years known for being nails tough, but none were as tough as Billy Joe Shaver. From getting four of his fingers lopped off at a lumber mill, from threatening to kick the ass of Waylon Jennings “In from of God and everybody,” to shooting a man in the face (in self-defense, mind you) at Papa Joe’s in Waco, Shaver lived one hell of a life before passing away on October 28th, 2020. Surviving a heart attack on stage only to run off to Australia with Kinky Friedman is just one story of many.
Billy Joe Shaver was a true honky tonk hero.
Live From Down Under is now available for pre-order from Omnivore Records.
1. Intro Coin Toss
2. Georgia On A Fast Train
3. Western Union Wire
4. Star In My Heart
5. Rapid City, South Dakota
6. Old Chunck Of Coal
7. Sold American
8. Ride Me Down Easy
9. Wild Man From Borneo
10. When The Fallen Angels Fly
11. Marilyn And Joe
12. You Asked Me To
13. Before All Hell Breaks Loose
14. Honky Tonk Heroes
15. Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed
16. Live Forever
17. You Wouldn’t Know Love (if You Fell In It)
18. Ride ’Em Jewboy
9. Old Five And Dimers Like Me
20. Keep On The Sunnyside
21. Try And Try Again
22. Outro Thanks And Goodbye!
August 25, 2021 @ 6:21 pm
He was like God’s indestructible doggie chew toy.
August 25, 2021 @ 6:23 pm
Cool story. One of my all time favorites. Who wrote Wild Man from Borneo? It doesn’t sound like a Shaver song.
August 26, 2021 @ 6:29 am
August 26, 2021 @ 7:02 am
August 25, 2021 @ 6:48 pm
I finally saw Papa Joes this spring on a trip through Texas.
I thought of him. RIP BJS
August 25, 2021 @ 8:16 pm
and Waylon died in Feb 2002 while the guys were on tour
August 25, 2021 @ 11:05 pm
“Willie and I both agreed, the best therapy he could have was to get out and have a good time.””
You have to love this …
August 26, 2021 @ 3:41 am
Not to mention a couple of chapters of legendary hell raising with running buddy Dickey Betts, especially during Billy Joe’s stint on Capricorn Records in Macon during the mid ’70’s.
August 26, 2021 @ 10:05 pm
Willie is the King !!!!?
August 26, 2021 @ 3:46 am
This story just makes me like him that much more- it reminds me of the line in the American Aquarium song, Me and Mine- “we’re tough as nails, mean as hell and not an ounce of quit in our veins”-
August 26, 2021 @ 6:37 am
Billy Joe was definitely a honky tonk legend and lived it. One other thing I always thought was amazing about Billy Joe is that an argument could be made that “Live Forever” is in the running for his best song. It is not often an artist has that type of song 20+ years into their career, shows how great of a writer Billy Joe was. I wish he and Eddy could have had more time as a father and son, but also as a musical team. I think we would have seen a huge second act for Billy Joe if that had happened.
August 26, 2021 @ 7:45 am
The live “Unshaven” album with his son is a fantastic rocker.
You got the silver
August 27, 2021 @ 9:56 am
Agreed! Unshaven is in my tops 5 guitar albums of all time. Eddy completely shreds Smith’s Olde Bar apart. Side note, I saw Billy Joe at the Exit In probably about 10 years ago. He slammed 4 red bulls then proceeded to play for almost 4 hours. Beautiful Man
August 26, 2021 @ 7:39 am
I lived in central TX for a number of years and I thank God above that I got to see Billy Joe Shaver perform so many times in the honky tonks around there. He was simply the best. He was a man of God and a man of the flesh, conflicted as so many of us are and able to put it into “pluperfect” song.
August 26, 2021 @ 10:26 am
I cherish my copy of the original release of this Album like a Family Heirloom. I got a story bout speedin’ Hearts & pluggin’ in to die but, I’m saving it for my Book.
God Bless Billy Joe!
August 26, 2021 @ 11:44 am
So thankful I got to see Billy Joe at Shank Hall a few years ago. They had equipment issues so he stood on the floor amongst (the sparse) crowd and played a few solo acoustic tunes until the problem was solved. Then he rocked, of course!
August 28, 2021 @ 4:10 pm
I was at that show! It was a second reschedule and they were late arriving due to traffic. Like so many shows at Shank hall it was a combination of fiasco and fantastic.
August 26, 2021 @ 4:11 pm
An enjoyable story about one of my favs. You do good work, Trigger.
August 26, 2021 @ 5:39 pm
Billy Joe Shaver was a bad ass and a fantastic performer he is truly missed by me and many others. R
I.P. Mr. Billy Joe Shaver a true legend.
August 26, 2021 @ 7:03 pm
I`m Washington Ratso, and I played on the tour and this record. Billy Joe was tough as nails every night. He played great! He was taking his nitroglycerin tablets like candy on stage—much love to Billy Joe and Jessie “Guitar” Taylor, who also played on the tour.
August 27, 2021 @ 6:47 am
Dug the unshaven album, saw his show in Canadian Texas, visited with him , he signed a
Show bill which I still have. Really a good ol’ boy.
August 27, 2021 @ 10:44 am
And just think about this:
In about a million years or so, Billy Joe will be an old chunk of coal.
August 27, 2021 @ 8:05 pm
Billy Joe is a hero of mine. The more I read about him the more I appreciate him. My most prized possession is a signed copy of his Autobiography that I bought from him back in 2016, down deep in the heart of Texas.
August 30, 2021 @ 9:23 am
A True American Legend a few more Billy Joe Shaffer’s is what the country needs today. Loved God and his fellow man.