Country Outlaw and songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver passed away on October 28th, 2020 at the age of 81. But fans of Shaver received a welcomed and unexpected new recording of his classic song “Old Chunk of Coal” that populated across streaming and download services on Friday, May 27th.
Featuring his long-time guitarist and surrogate son Jeremy Lynn Woodall, it’s a stripped-down acoustic take of the song “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” that John Anderson recorded in 1981 and had a hit with, reaching #4 in the charts. Shaver also released his own version that was the title track to his 1981 Columbia Records release.
So why is this new version being released now? Talking to Jeremy Lynn Woodall, he says this song was recorded to accompany the Billy Joe Shaver episode of Mike Judge’s Tales from the Tour Bus animated series, originally released in October of 2017. But that still doesn’t answer why it’s being released right now. Querying the label Lightning Rod Records that released the song, it has to do with the close friendship Billy Joe Shaver had with comedian Norm MacDonald.
Norm MacDonald passed away on September 21st, 2021, but right before, he recorded the audio for what was going to be his next comedy special. MacDonald had a medical procedure coming up, and he wanted to make sure the special was captured just in case everything didn’t go so well. Good thing he did, and just like the new version of “Old Chunk of Coal,” MacDonald’s final special called Nothing Special was just released via Netflix.
Along with Norm’s final act, the Netflix special also includes comedians like David Letterman, Dave Chappelle, Adam Sandler, Conan O’Brien, and others talking about Norm’s career and impact. And who better to play Norm MacDonald out during the credits than old friend Billy Joe Shaver? So that is why the new version of “Old Chunk of Coal” is being released now.
Unfortunately, the new Billy Joe Shaver song is not part of a bigger project in the works. But according to Jeremy Lynn Woodall, Billy Joe Shaver did do some final studio recordings in the early portions of the pandemic, though he doesn’t know if or when they will be released. So there is still some more Billy Joe Shaver material out there in the offing.
And speaking of Billy Joe Shaver, Jeremy Lynn Woodall, and remembering fallen greats, Woodall has announced the formation of the officially Billy Joe Shaver tribute band called Surrogate Son that he will be a part of. They will be performing along with the Chris Low Band and Gordon Collier at The Backyard in Waco, TX on August 14th at the inaugural “Billy Joe Shaver Hometown Throwdown” that will happen each year around Shaver’s birthday on August 16th.
Billy Joe Shaver and Norm MacDonald are gone, but they’re not forgotten, thanks to the art they left behind, and the loyal fans and fellow artists committed to keeping their memories alive.