Billy Joe Shaver

From "Honky Tonk Hero: An Autobiography"
I was not even born yet when my father first tried to kill me.

It was June and the evening light had started to fade, but it was still hotter than nine kinds of hell. We were outside of Corsicana, a little cotton town in northeast Texas, and I was in my mother's belly, two months from entering the world.

Buddy Shaver was convinced that my mother, Victory, was cheating on him. That was bullshit, and he probably knew it. But he'd been drinking. My father was half-French, half-Blackfoot Sioux, and one-hundred-percent mean. He drank a lot, and the booze didn't mix well with his Indian blood. You know there are some guys who are just born naturally strong, with big shoulders and a chiseled upper body even though they never work a lick at it? That was my father, and my mother didn't have a chance.

It's just a story I've heard, told by family members who don't enjoy the retelling. But I can see it as clearly as if I was there. They were standing next to a small stock tank with black, still water. It was the middle of nowhere, with no roads or houses in sight. Who knows what he told her to get her out there, or whether she knew what was coming when they stopped there? He held nothing back, yet his cold gray eyes showed no emotion as he beat her within an inch of her life. When she was down, he stomped her with his cowboy boots until she stopped struggling. Then he tossed her limp body into the water like a sack of potatoes. Years later, when I was a grown man, my momma couldn't stand to be around me when I wore cowboy boots—she never could forget what they did to her that night.

Momma laid there for hours until an old Mexican man showed up to water his cattle. Even though he knew my kinfolk pretty well, he didn't recognize her at first. He thought she was dead. But she spoke to him through the bruises and the blood, and he threw her over the back of his horse and carried her home.

The violence of that night set the stage for my childhood: It's the reason my father left, it's the reason my mother didn't want me, and it's the reason I went to live with my loving grandmother. In many ways, I think that night is the reason I write country songs.

When you get right down to it, country music is essentially the blues, and that night introduced me to the blues. In the years since then, they've never left me. I've lost parts of three fingers, broke my back, suffered a heart attack and a quadruple bypass, had a steel plate put in my neck and 136 stitches in my head, fought drugs and booze, spent the money I had, and buried my wife, son, and mother in the span of one year.

But I'm not here to complain or ask for pity. Life is hard for everybody, just in different ways. I'm not proud of my misfortune—I'm proud of my survival. For years, my family kept a bundle of life insurance on me because they were sure I would be the first to go. But as I write this, at sixty-four years of age, I'm still here and they are all gone.

The question is—why? That's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Throughout my career as a songwriter, I've just written songs about me—the good and the bad, the funny and the sad. I've written songs about other people, but I don't sing other people's songs. They're just little poems about my life, and I've never pretended they were anything more. Despite all my ups and downs, I've never been to therapy or rehab or any of that stuff. The songs are my therapy.

But after my shows, people always come up to me and thank me for writing those songs. They tell me about their lives, and how a song of mine helped them through a tough patch or made them smile during a difficult time. Sometimes they say I inspired them—that if I can make it through my life, they can damn sure get through theirs. When we're done talking, I give them a hug and tell them I love them. I know exactly where they are coming from.

My point is, it's truly a miracle I survived that night by that stock tank, and I don't mean that the way most people say it—like it's a lucky break. I think God allowed me to live. He wanted me to tell my story.

Tim Easton
Download Biography (PDF)


Tim Easton’s forthcoming album Not Cool is a tightly wound gearbox of tunes that showcase his influences, including Doc Watson, Elmore James, and Keith Richards. A compelling live performer, Easton recently re-located from Joshua Tree, California, to Nashville, where he recorded Not Cool in five hard-charging days with producers and long time collaborative team Robin Eaton and Brad Jones. Says Easton, “It was the easiest time I've ever had in the studio.”

The concept for Not Cool came to Easton as he was getting acquainted with his new, adopted hometown. “The back stage door of the Ryman Auditorium is directly across the alley from the back door to Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway. I walked in the bar one night and heard the locals killing it. JD Simo on guitar and Joe Fick on upright bass. It was just the modern, yet vintage sound that I wanted and I simply asked them to play on my record.”

Sonically, Not Cool is both a departure from and return to his first solo album, Special 20 (1999). Like Special 20 - a standout favorite among many Easton fans - Not Cool draws inspiration from an assortment of scrappy, lost-and-found instruments, including Easton’s $100 Kay guitar, wired with a cheap-o pick-up and run through a tiny, 5-watt Gretsch amp.

In choosing the band for Not Cool, the Ohio-raised songwriter embraced a collaborative approach and picked “players I knew could learn these songs on the spot and nail them. And, of course, I was prepared to roll with the surprises they brought with them because that’s how good work is done.”

“Don’t Lie” kicks the album off with a romp. Hard-hitting and tough, the song is driven by Simo’s greasy slide guitar and the instinctive drumming style of Jon Radford. Never has Easton’s studio band matched his sound and performance as well as on Not Cool.

“Don’t Lie”- like many of his best songs – developed quickly and naturally. Says Easton, “’Don’t Lie’ is a blues story-song, straight and simple. We all know couples like this, liars and ne'er do wells. And this is a snapshot of a combustible relationship.”

Now married with a young daughter in his life, Easton’s songwriting has been rejuvenated by parenthood. “Having a kid’s been great for helping me to get back in touch with the whole spirit of doing things just because they’re fun or because it feels good.”

As a songwriter whom Rolling Stone praised as having a “novelist’s sense of humanity,” Easton’s Not Cool – his seventh album - further expands his already impressive output of melodic and nuanced tunes. Often drawing inspiration from America’s more menacing margins, Not Cool’s “Four Queens” - inspired by an off-the-strip Vegas hotel Easton has frequented - is a blunt and memorable tune that traces a woman’s descent into addiction in fewer words than a tabloid lead: “Skipped all the good stuff, took straight up with the pills/ Now she’s underneath the table licking dollar bills.”

But just as Easton’s writing is evoking the tough and grizzled world of down-and- outers, he and his band put forward an impossibly appealing Tennessee Three- styled arrangement for “Troubled Times,” a true charmer that gets a gorgeous lift from the background vocal stylings of Easton’s longtime musical partner, Megan Palmer. Palmer also plays violin on the album’s haunting “Knock Out Roses (For Levon).” Says Easton, “The day Levon Helm died I walked out into my backyard with my mandolin, stood by a rose bush, and wrote this tune for him. It's men like Levon who make you remember how much we owe the music. I feel the same way about Doc Watson.”

Of the eleven songs on Not Cool, one – “Crazy Motherfucker from Shelby, Ohio” – was penned by friend and Brooklyn-based filmmaker, JP Olsen, whose songs Easton has recorded previously on The Truth About Us (2000) and Break Your Mother’s Heart (2003).

Now living happily in East Nashville, Easton maintains a rigorous and far-reaching tour schedule and has been participating in the Nashville tradition of co-writing. He has also been contributing to film scores and soundtracks, most recently Marc Smolowitz’s powerful, award-winning 2011 documentary, “The Power of Two.”

As for Not Cool, Easton sums it up simply, “there is nothing vague or indirect about the songs or lyrics on this album. It is my version of what American music sounds like.”

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