Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s01e05 Episode Script

Billy Joe Shaver

1 (country music playing) This guy here, Billy Joe Shaver, is one of the greatest country music songwriters alive today.
The fact that he's alive at all is pretty unbelievable, given the life he's lead.
I've spent a lifetime Making up my mind to be More than the measure Of what I thought others could see And insider backstage, an outsider in the business, Billy Joe Shaver dropped acid with the Grateful Dead, picked a fight with Waylon Jennings, he married the same woman three times, divorced her after each one, and, like almost everyone else in this series so far, he shot a guy.
(theme music playing) Well, I first met Billy Joe on the stage.
He was playing a song, so I just picked up my Hobbs, started playing with him, you know? He said, "Oh, man.
" He said, "You can you can play that French harp.
" Then he said, "Why don't you come out on the road with me?" The next day, I get up, pack my stuff, and I head to Billy Joe's.
Brenda, his wife at the time, she answered the door and she said, "They're downstairs rehearsing.
" So I said, "Okay," so I go downstairs.
(chuckles) And Billy looks at me, then he looks over at Fred, and he goes, "You know, I got a little buzz on last night.
" And he said, "I hired this crazy Yankee harmonica player.
" He said, "I can't understand a word he said.
" - He said, "We're just gonna humor him.
" - (all laugh) Mike: These guys know more about Billy Joe Shaver than they'd ever speak about openly.
Roguie Ray LaMontagne played harmonica with him.
Freddy Fletcher played drums, and Don Mealer, well I didn't do much of nothing except carry drums and roadie a little.
My nickname is Poobah.
Where is that from, Freddy? I'd I'd go to jail.
(Ray laughs) I'm not sure where that comes from.
I thought it came from The Flintstones.
(laughs) Billy goes, "That damn Poobah, he gets all the girls.
" (laughter) Ray: "What's with that guy?" Billy Joe had this van he called Old Blue that we traveled in, and he had it all kind of fixed up.
There was a bed in the back, had a couch in there.
We were in a lot of bad situations in that van.
We was in Old Blue, coming up to Canada, going through the border, pulling a stolen U-Haul that we had rented months and months before.
This was in, uh Late '70s.
Yeah, late '70s, early '80s.
"We're going to Canada.
No drugs.
" Billy Joe made a big, big thing about that.
(chuckles) "No drugs! You know they've got a big checkpoint up here.
We got no drugs, right?" That's what he's said.
"We're gonna have to pull over.
" Ray: Everybody got out, was going through their bags.
Freddy: All the sudden, all this dope's coming out, you know, and during those times, cocaine was real popular.
There's guns coming out, and there's knives and things of that nature.
And I had a belt that had a the buckle was actually a knife in a sheath.
Roguie probably had some brass knuckles or something, you know, and Billy Joe always carried this little derringer.
He called it his popgun.
He'd carry it in his boot.
Ray: Billy Joe says, "We gotta hide it somewhere," so there was a mile marker there.
You have these mile markers that show you where you are and how close you're getting to whatever destination.
So we picked a mile marker and dug a hole and stashed all our shit.
But then coming back, it was like, "Oh man!" We couldn't remember (laughs) which mile marker.
(laughter) I remember going down the road real slow, looking (laughs) and, you know.
Freddy: Things were hazy back then, but, uh, if we didn't find our stash, we headed home pretty quick to get some more.
- (laughter) - (tires squeal) Mike: They drove Old Blue all over North America, but they always came back to Texas, Billy Joe's home state.
He, uh, grew up with his grandmother around Corsicana in the middle of nowhere in Central Texas pretty humble beginnings and loved poetry.
Some of the memories are probably a little painful.
One of the early stories Billy Joe told me was that he snuck in to see Homer and Jethro.
We just know two songs, and we already sang one of 'em first - (laughter) - so we'd like to do the other one right now.
We're gonna we're gonna do one here called, "I Miss My Wife's Cooking Whenever I Can.
" Mike: Henry "Homer" Haynes and Kenneth "Jethro" Burns were known as the Thinking Man's Hillbillies, a mantle Billy Joe would one day inherit.
As a kid, they were the first act he went to see.
I was about eight or something, Homer and Jethro were down at the Miracle Bread Company, and so I decided, "Well, I'm gonna sneak out of the house at night and go down there.
" And I'm barefooted, got little old overalls on and no shirt.
But I got there, and, uh, there was a crowd of guys, smoking and drinking.
And I got in there, and I'm having to jump around to keep people from stepping on my feet.
And I decided, "Well, I'll shimmy up this pole," and that's when they introduced Hank Williams.
Came in last night at half past ten That baby of mine wouldn't let me in So move it on over Move it on over Move it on over - Move it on over - Hank: Move over little He just sang right straight to me, and when he sang straight to me, it lit me up.
Changed the lock on our front door And my poor key don't fit no more So get it on over Went on home, got the beating of my life.
My grandma, like, half beat me half to death, but I knew then what I was gonna do.
A lot of what he drew from was his experiences.
There's one song called "I'd Walk Six Miles of Train Track to Hear Hank Williams Sing.
" It's a true story.
Mike: Billy Joe was gonna write songs, and to do that, he needed to experience a little more of the world than what he had there in Corsicana.
Oh, I was about 15 or something like that.
I went over to Boys Town there in Matamoros.
Mike: Matamoros is just across the border in Mexico, about 30 miles from Brownsville.
Boys Town is in La Zona Roja, the red-light district.
As a kid and being a Texan, I think all the boys ended up, at one point or another, going to Boys Town.
There's girls, there's drugs basically anything you want.
You never leave with a good feeling.
It's lots of fun.
I went into this one particular joint.
I'm setting there at the table, drinking, and all of a sudden, a bottle whizzed by my head.
So, I started throwing my bottles at them, too.
(people shouting) Billy Joe: And there's bottles flying everywhere - (sirens blare) - and about that time though, the policia come in and they grab me, of course, right off.
He was thrown in jail in Mexico at probably 15 years old.
Billy Joe: I asked this guy next-door to me, "Man, I sure could do with a smoke.
" He said, "It's a dollar.
" So I handed him a dollar, and then I realized I didn't have no matches.
He sold me one match for a dollar again, and I go to light it, and he said, "Don't do that.
You'll ruin it.
You gotta have a piece of this here envelope thing that it came in.
" I said, "Well, man, come on.
You-you you mess with me long enough.
" He said, "Well, this'll be it.
" And I handed him my dollar.
And, boy, it was the best cigarette I ever smoked in my whole life.
Anyhow, I got out.
Mike: Billy Joe made his way back to Texas and found a job at Cameron Mills, a lumber mill about an hour south of Waco.
And that's where I got these fingers cut off.
It was a double-end machine, and on the side there was steel deal with razor blades all in it, just flying.
You couldn't even see it, it was going so fast.
My glove got hung in there, and it didn't have no safety switch, and I put my foot up against the darn thing.
I scooped my fingers up, and it was so strange, because I'd just read a a deal about these Japanese people sewing the fingers back on.
I got in my pickup and went over to the doctor's office.
I handed him my fingers.
I said, "Can you sew these fingers back on? - He said, "What?" - "They do it in Japan.
" And he said, "This is Waco, Texas!" (laughs) Did one of those deals on me.
And the nurse there, she looked at me, and she said, "Mr.
Billy, can I have them fingers?" She came out with a Mason jar I swear, it already had the formaldehyde and everything in it and she just dropped them fingers down in there.
And she was pretty, too, man.
I figured, "Well, this is an in, you know? I'll go to the hospital, then I'll come back.
" (laughs) Kinky Friedman: Every story Billy Joe tells is true.
He doesn't write any fanciful stuff.
And the idea that a guitar player like him would lose his fingers in a sawmill accident and have such a great sense of humor about it He always waves to the audience with that hand, you know.
I mean, that'd be enough to stop most people.
Mike: Singer, songwriter, politician, and close friend of Billy Joe Shaver, Kinky Friedman has known the man almost all his life.
- I just remember me and Billy Joe scratching around in Nashville.
- (dog barking) Want the dogs barking out there? Yeah, okay.
(spits) That's part of the ambiance? Well, I tell you what, we'll put that dog - to sleep, okay? - (barking continues) Billy Joe adopted a three-legged dog from us, from our rescue ranch for animals.
I knew he would take that dog, uh, for a lot of reasons.
We always say, "May the Lord take a liking to you," but the Lord has taken a liking to Billy Joe.
In spite of all the tragedy in his life, almost all of it self-inflicted some of it wasn't, not when he was in his mother's womb and was almost kicked to death by his father.
Um, and the mother after he was born, the mother the next day, the mother left, took off.
She told my grandmother when I was born, she said, "If it's a boy, I'm leaving.
" And actually, I was a boy, you know.
If you have that poverty and miserableness and broken-heartedness and alcohol and drugs, that makes for for a great songwriter.
Mike: Well, that brings us to the drugs, I guess, which really got serious after Billy Joe decided to leave home for good.
He's got to make a move out of Texas at some point and really go pursue this.
So he's gonna go to LA.
He's trying to hitchhike.
He's standing out there for hours and not getting a ride.
And he went, "Well, fuck it," you know.
And he goes to the other side of the highway and hitchhikes, and ends up in Nashville.
Bill Joe was not a boozehound, but he knew his way around drugs.
It was pills back then, uppers.
Basically, the same thing Johnny Cash had.
Mike: Singer Bobby Bare met Billy Joe in the country music capital of the world.
He'd just started up a publishing company.
He came in my office one morning on Music Row, sang me a few songs, and the songs were strange.
- With a trembling hand and a bottle of gin - Billy Joe was stranger.
And a rose of a different The first song of his I heard was "Black Rose," I think.
Well, the devil made me do it the first time The second time I done it on my own - (cheering) - Lord, put a handle on this simple-headed man Help me leave that black rose alone When I first got to town, I didn't have nowhere to stay, didn't have no car, nothing.
Mike: He landed on the couch of another songwriter named Hal Bynum, known for the Kenny Rogers hit, "Lucille," among other things.
Hal was a fighter, and I got in a lot of fights, you know.
Hal would come in at night, usually, I'd be asleep.
I'd feel something on my neck, and it'd be a dang rusty knife, and he would read Alfred Lord Tennyson.
(deep voice) "Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred.
" It sounded like something Hal would do.
I told Bobby about it.
I said, "I don't know what's the matter with me.
I don't know why I didn't leave.
I guess I liked the poetry.
" He said, "No, I think you liked the knife.
" (laughs) Hal never used the knife.
He doesn't have that kind of courage.
Mike: Billy Joe was the one who was fearless, particularly when it came to experimentation.
I've heard the stories about Willie and Waylon testing, uh, dope on Billy Joe.
I was kind of a guinea pig, but I got a lot of free drugs.
He'd take a handful of pills, and they'd sit back and watch him for an hour, see how it affected him.
I got a lot of cocaine from Waylon.
And Willie, he wouldn't do nothing but smoke marijuana.
And, uh, Waylon would fire you if he smelt marijuana around you.
And, uh, Willie would fire you if he heard you were doing coke.
Mike: Both Willie and Waylon Jennings were instrumental in Billy Joe's career, but his big break came in a roundabout way from the Grateful Dead.
I went into Austin, and I was supposed to play in front of the Grateful Dead, and I actually got there a day late.
And I'm walking off across the parking lot, and the manager, he comes hollering at me, say, "Hey, Billy, uh, the Dead left you something.
" And he come out with his purse-like thing you know, a man purse (chuckles) and he had a big roll of toilet paper.
(laughs) And I said, "What are you trying they trying to tell me something or what?" And he said, "No.
" He said, "There's a hit of Owsley acid on every square.
" Mike: Owsley acid was the street name for LSD, nicknamed for Owsley Stanley, the chemist who was also known as Bear, who just happened to be the Grateful Dead's sound man.
Anyway, went and took a hit.
And later that night, I'm all, "Whoa, man.
" I'm seeing all kind of things.
I got to laying down on the cement.
I woke up and this this darn brown recluse spider had bit my arm.
He laid there all night long, I guess, just having a great time, biting the hell out of me.
And I remember pushing it off, and it was dead.
Mike: The year was 1972.
It was the weekend of the Dripping Springs Reunion, the live music event that would become Willie Nelson's annual 4th of July picnic.
It was totally disorganized, but it was a great lineup, and it was in the middle of nowhere in Texas.
It's hotter than hell, cowboys and hippies and girls throwing their blouses on stage.
From what I understand, Billy Joe was gonna play the picnic, but he kind of disappeared out into the wilderness for two or three days.
I got to thinking I was Jesus Christ, and I was gonna like, uh, heal people and stuff.
I went wandering around, and I finally found this little peanut truck not a truck, a peanut trailer.
And it don't look like you can get in 'em, but you can.
And I got inside there, and there was three guys passing a guitar around.
And I started playing "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me," and all of a sudden here comes somebody busting out of the back, all bent over, and it was Waylon Jennings.
And he says, "Whose song is that?" And I said, "It's mine.
" He said, "You got any more of those cowboy songs?" Billy Joe finally sucked, fucked or cajoled Waylon into recording a whole record of his songs, which turned out to be Honky Tonk Heroes.
What Billy Joe did not do, was he would not leave the studio when Waylon was recording, and no artist appreciates a songwriter critiquing every fucking thing he does.
Waylon gave Captain Midnight a hundred dollar bill and said, "Give this to Billy Joe, and tell him to get the fuck out of here and stay away.
" And, uh, Billy Joe threw it back at Midnight, and he said, "You tell Waylon to stick this up his ass.
" Low down leaving sun Done did everything that needs done Woe is me, why can't I see? I'd best be leaving well enough alone Mike: Honky Tonk Heroes was released in 1973.
A lot of folks say it was the Outlaw Movement's first true record and maybe Waylon's best.
Record company was happy, and Waylon's career went skyrocketing.
Mike: As for Billy Joe, he went back on the road with Old Blue and the band, playing songs for anyone who would listen.
And he went back to Texas, where he had family, which brings us to Billy Joe's relationship to women, fertile ground for any songwriter.
He married his first wife, Brenda, three times with divorces in between, and then he did the same thing with wife number two, Wanda.
She was my triple-ex-wife.
She could drink more than I could.
That's why I married her, really.
Mike: The last ceremony was held, fittingly, in Las Vegas.
And Billy Gibbons was, uh he married us.
You know, the guitar player for ZZ Top? He's an ordained minister.
Flew from Texas to Vegas, made it in about an hour and a half.
We arrived at the Chapel of the West.
Billy Joe walked in, and I said, uh, "Gee, man, I'm really kind of excited.
This is kind of a big deal.
" And he said, "Oh, don't think anything of it.
I've done it many times.
" (laughs) Mike: Six times, to put a number on it.
We wound up going back to the hotel.
I said, uh, "Where's the celebration?" They said, uh, "Oh, it's right there.
" And they were pointing to the center of the casino.
I said, "Well, where's Billy Joe?" "You can see 'em.
They're right down there on the floor.
" I said, "Well, what are they doing?" They're down there on the floor, in the main bar, in the center of the casino.
They're Indian leg wrestling.
You've seen that Indian wrestling thing.
Everybody knows about that.
And I looked down, I said, "Well, there's a one, and then two, and then on three, wham.
" (cracks) He popped my neck real good.
Down the road we went to the little walk-in clinic, and they said, "Gee, uh, we better, uh we better have a look at this.
" So they did a quick X-ray.
Well, he had broken his neck.
(laughs) The guy that broke my neck, he was my best man.
Wanda got to crying so bad and she can cry.
She has these tear ducts that she has little plugs, and she took them things out, mascara ran all down her face.
It looked like somebody just beat the hell out of her.
She stayed out, gone all night long, you know.
And I I assume Billy consummated the marriage.
Mike: Wanda and Billy Joe headed back to Texas to get divorced, again.
They stopped at a watering hole, close to home, named Papa Joe's.
It's right on the outskirts of Waco.
It's just one of those places you're not gonna really pull into if you got any sense.
We go inside, and here comes this guy, he's built like a brick shit-house.
And he comes over there to our table, and then he got to stirring the drinks with this here one of them, uh, Kershaw knives and kind of smarting off to me.
And I noticed my wife with her head up against his head, and they're they're talking.
You know, they're close.
But I didn't care.
We getting a divorce, you understand? And it wasn't long before I got tired of him blabbering, you know.
He turns around and tells me, "Why don't you shut the fuck up!" Well, I said, "I can't take this.
" I said, "Look, man, you gonna have to either apologize or something.
" And then he he gets up out of his chair.
He said, "Apologize? Hell, I'm gonna kill you.
" So we head for the back door, and the leader of the band handed him a gun.
I said, "Oh shit, what am I gonna do now?" I knew I'd I'd brought my little .
22 derringer with me, you know, just in case.
He shot at me three times.
Mike: Let's stop right here for a second.
Witness accounts, police records, and the legal arguments presented in the case all depict the other man as being armed with a knife.
(zings) Carry on.
I knew it was time to return fire.
So, I actually come out of my pocket with that little old thing and went (grunts) like that, just "Pfft!" And it hit him right between the mother and the fucker.
And he dropped his weapon, and he said, "I'm sorry.
" And, uh, God, I wish he'd have said that earlier and none of that would have happened.
Wanda comes hopping out like a damn kangaroo, screaming and a-hollering, and she finally decided to go with me, so we took off and went to my, uh, hiding place, which I ain't gonna tell you where it is.
Billy Joe called me the night he was on the run.
He was gonna get killed or kill somebody.
He said, "I just shot this guy.
" I said, "Oh, fuck.
Is he dead?" He said, "No, I just shot him through the cheek.
" He said, "What do I do?" Mike: Word of the shootout at Papa Joe's spread like wildfire through his community.
Phone rings, and I flipped it over, and it was Dale Watson.
Mike: Dale Watson is a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and good friend of Billy Joe's.
And Dale says, "Billy, can I write a song about this?" And I thought, "What in the world?" I said, "Were you there?" And he said, "No.
I just wanna write a song about it.
" And I said, "Well, I guess so, you know.
" My phone rang.
I picked it up, and it said "Billy Joe Shaver.
" Mike: Connie Nelson was Willie Nelson's third wife, and more importantly, a close personal friend to Billy Joe.
And the first words he said was, "Connie, I'm in big trouble.
" And I said, "Oh, God, Billy Joe.
" I said, "Listen, where's the gun now?" And he said, "It's in my pocket.
" And I said, "Oh, God.
" Mike: Connie contacted a lawyer, and this lawyer convinced Billy Joe to turn himself in.
He was released on a $50,000 bond and managed to play a gig later that night in Austin.
That's Billy Joe.
What are you gonna do? Fast-forward, so they indict him, so there's this big trial and media circus in Waco.
By the time, I'd fired about five different lawyers, 'cause they all wanted me to plead guilty.
Mike: He ended up with Texas legal legend, Dick DeGuerin.
Now, Dick DeGuerin is a very good lawyer, if there is such a thing.
Mike: Among his many infamous defendants, Dick DeGuerin has represented former Congressman Tom DeLay and cult leader David Koresh.
Dick DeGuerin also represented Bobby Durst, who, uh, cut the guy's head off in, uh, Waco.
Bobby Durst and I were co-best men at Chinga Chavin's wedding in Las Vegas.
Chinga Chavin, the guy who wrote "Proud to Be an Asshole from El Paso" and also "Cum Stains On the Pillow (Where Your Sweet Head Used to Be).
" At any rate, Dick DeGuerin, he says, "Never put a woman on a jury whose lips resemble a chicken's asshole.
" (sniffs) And that's what I was worried about in Waco.
Billy Joe was a local boy and very well known, so had standing room only in the courtroom.
(clears throat) And there were Billy Joe supporters, for instance, Robert Duvall came to the trial, Willie Nelson came, and, uh, he called me on his cell phone.
He said, "Now, Dick, are you gonna put Billy Joe on the stand?" I said, "Yeah, Willie, I've got to.
He's got to testify.
" He said, "Well, you know you can't trust "what comes out of his mouth.
(chuckles) You never can tell what he's gonna say.
" For instance, prosecutor said, "Now, Mr.
Shaver, you could've just walked away from there, couldn't you?" He said, "Ma'am, I'm from Texas.
I ain't no chickenshit.
" "Oh, you didn't just say that.
Oh, no, you didn't.
" (laughs) There was another point in the trial where, again, Billy Joe's on the stand, this and the prosecutor was cross-examining.
She's pointing that finger at me and said, "You said, 'Where you want it?'" And I said, "What?" I said, "I didn't say that.
" And they said, "We know you did, because we heard it on the radio.
" Mike: Remember Dale Watson? Well, Billy Joe's old friend had memorialized the shootout in a song, which had been playing on the radio.
Dale: Billy ask him, "Son, where do you want it?" And just about this time, I see the judge rolled his eyes, and I thought, "He's gonna go to prison.
Oh, my God.
" Oh, yes.
I was just sitting there, cringing, 'cause there's nothing I could do.
Mike: After a three-day trial, the jury took just two hours to reach a verdict.
Dick: Bill Joe was very nervous.
The judge says, "We, the jury, find the defendant, Billy Joe Shaver, not guilty.
" (cheering) The courtroom erupted in applause.
For a guy who makes millions of bucks doing ridiculous cases for people who are obviously guilty and everybody knows it, that may have been Dick DeGuerin's finest hour.
Billy Joe's been quoted as saying he wanted his bullet back.
(laughs) But the Lord blessed Billy Joe and it ended well, and he got a song out of it, "Wacko From Waco.
" Billy Joe: I'm wacko from Waco Ain't no doubt about it Shot a man there in the mouth But can't talk much about it Mike: The "Wacko from Waco" may live a charmed life, but he hasn't gotten away Scot-free.
No one does.
He lost one of his wives to cancer, and his only son to an overdose.
Billy Joe himself suffered a heart attack on stage, both knees have given out, and he's broken his neck three times.
Man, I'm a mess, you know, but I'm still writing songs.
You know, you look at guy who's a poet, that's a very high calling.
Being a songwriter is to sail as close to the truth as you can get without sinking the ship.
Or as Willie Nelson says, "If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.
" Billy Joe: I'm gonna live forever I'm gonna cross that river I'm gonna catch tomorrow now You're gonna wanna hold me Just like I always told you You're gonna miss me when I'm gone Nobody here will ever find me But I will always be around Just like the songs I leave behind me I'm gonna live Forever now (car engine revs)