August 16th, 2022 would have been Billy Joe Shaver’s 83rd birthday, but unfortunately, he passed away on October 28th, 2020 at the age of 81, leaving a legacy of songwriting that set the very foundation for Outlaw country music that is still just as influential and resonant today. All the more reason that artists from the past and present are coming together to tribute the “Wacko From Waco” in Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver to be released via New West Records on November 11th.
Featuring contributors such as close friend Willie Nelson, fellow Texan George Strait, mainstream stalwart Miranda Lambert, as well as numerous names from the Americana world such as Ryan Bingham, Amanda Shires, Margo Price, and Allison Russell, the release tries to cover all bases. Willie Nelson has already paid tribute to Billy Joe Shaver numerous times before with songs such as “Hero,” but he leads off the tribute by covering Shaver’s song “Live Forever” with help from Lucinda Williams (listen below).
But this tribute will come with not a little drama. Producing the effort are Texas stalwart and Bob Dylan guitar player Charlie Sexton, as well as Willie Nelson nephew, drummer, producer, and Billy Joe Shaver collaborator Freddy Fletcher. Though these two guys are totally appropriate for handling Billy Joe Shaver material, Freddy Fletcher is currently in a legal dispute with the family and heirs of Billy Joe Shaver over the rights to the late songwriter’s royalties and estate.
Freddy Fletcher is the son of Willie Nelson’s sister Bobbie and musician Bud Fletcher. Freddy was one of three children born before the couple divorced in 1955. In 1984, Freddy Fletcher opened the famous Aryln Studios in Austin, and in 1999, Fletcher also co-founded Pedernales Records with his uncle Willie. Freddy played drums on Billy Joe Shaver’s album Everybody’s Brother from 2007. It was the next year—on October 2nd, 2008—that Billy Joe Shaver reportedly hand wrote a last will and testament, leaving all his worldly possessions, a.k.a. “anything of value,” including his song royalties and his house in Waco, TX, to Freddy Fletcher.
However, Freddy Fletcher ultimately lost the note, and now only has a copy, while at the same time the note was written, Billy Joe Shaver already had a last will and testament written and on the books, and done in a more traditional manner through a lawyer, initially naming Shaver’s older sister Patricia as the executor of his estate in 2000, then refiling the will in 2003 naming Patricia’s son and Billy Joe Shaver’s blood nephew Terry Dwayne Rogers as the heir. To read more about the ongoing estate dispute, CLICK HERE.
Currently, the rights to Billy Joe Shaver’s estate remain under dispute in a McLennan County probate court in Waco. Saving Country Music contacted the court to confirm that the case is still pending. Though anyone can record anyone’s songs, where the performance royalties for the songs on this tribute album will end up remains to be seen.
Some hardcore country fans may also question why some artists such as Edie Brickell and Nathaniel Rateliff were picked to perform on this tribute, while more “Outlaw” artists from the here and now were left off. That’s the ultimate question with many tributes, and more and more these tributes seem to be centered around the same small scene of “Americana” performers as opposed to a more global search for the best or most appropriate collaborators.
But one name that is hard to question is Amanda Shires. She actually played with Billy Joe Shaver, and when she heard about the tribute from Willie’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael, reached out and wanted to make sure she was a part of it.
Billy Joe Shaver was considered one of the last real deal artists in country music. When he stared down Waylon Jennings at Tompall Glaser’s Hillbilly Central in Nashville and told him he’d kick his ass “in front of God and everybody” if he didn’t listen to his songs, it resulted in the 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes, which sparked off the Outlaw movement in earnest.
Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver is now available for pre-order.
1. Willie Nelson (w/ Lucinda Williams) – Live Forever
2. Ryan Bingham (w/ Nikki Lane) – Ride Me Down Easy
3. Rodney Crowell – Old Five And Dimers Like Me
4. Miranda Lambert – I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday)
5. Edie Brickell – I Couldn’t Be Me Without You
6. Nathaniel Rateliff – You Asked Me To
7. George Strait – Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me
8. Amanda Shires – Honky Tonk Heroes
9. Steve Earle – Ain’t No God In Mexico
10. Margo Price – Ragged Old Truck
11. Willie Nelson – Georgia On A Fast Train
12. Allison Russell – Tramp On Your Street