Monthly Archives: November 2011

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver

Country music’s original outlaw singer talks about dogs, Jesus, and what it’s like to have a heart attack on stage.

November 24, 2011

“Oh, it’s you again,” says Billy Joe Shaver, laughing into the phone when I had to call him back to resume our interview after being disconnected. Shaver was right in the middle of an anecdote about riding around for a week with Waylon Jennings and songwriter, poet, and artist Shel Silverstein. Before we got cut off, he had begun the story: “Me and Waylon and Shel Silverstein were out [on the road] for about a week just ridin’ around. We got to tellin’ jokes, and we told so many of ‘em we started numberin’ our jokes!” When I got him back on the phone, I tried unsuccessfully to get him to finish the yarn but he just laughed and said, “Man, I got in trouble last time I told that one.” Regardless, a brief chat with the man hailed as the king of the honky-tonk singers as he drives from Texas to the Flora-Bama Lounge is warm and hilarious.

Billy Joe Shaver’s life has been one of trial, tribulation, and heartache. His father tried to kill his mother while she was still pregnant with Shaver. Later, she left him to be raised by his grandmother. He lost two fingers in a sawmill accident at age 28 and had a reputation as a drinker and brawler. He arrived in Nashville in 1966 to break into the music business. The singer eventually sobered up and changed his wild ways, but troubles continued to haunt his life. In 1999, Shaver buried his mother, then his wife Brenda (He divorced her twice and married her three times.), who died of cancer a month later. On New Year’s Eve 2000, his son (and guitarist/collaborator) Eddy died of a heroin overdose. The next year he had a heart attack on stage at a July 4 show in New Braunfels, Texas. Then in 2007, at Papa Joe’s Saloon in Lorena, Texas, near Shaver’s Waco home, he shot a man who had been harassing him while wielding a knife (Shaver said he thought the man was carrying a pistol as well.) The man was not severely injured, but Shaver was arraigned for aggravated assault. The jury concluded that the singer had acted in self-defense despite prosecutors’ shamelessly ridiculous attempts to portray him as a “honky-tonk bully” for going outside to confront the victim and not simply leaving the bar, according to reports from the court transcripts. His pals Robert Duvall, with whom he co-starred in The Apostle in 1997, and Willie Nelson appeared in court on his behalf. Earlier this year, Shaver penned a song with Nelson about the shooting incident called “Wacko from Waco.”

(click for larger version)



The tunes Shaver writes are brilliant, melodic gems that tell stories about how tough but beautiful life can be. He’s been covered by numerous artists, such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1973, Waylon Jennings recorded an entire album of Shaver’s songs called Honky Tonk Heroes. That album launched the “outlaw” genre, which heavily influenced country music for the next couple of decades. Although Shaver never became as big a star as his musical buddies, he embraces life with a grateful, enthusiastic fervor and never hesitates to share with audiences how happy and blessed he is to still be alive at age 71; especially after the rough and tumble “outlaw singer” existence that so long defined him. One of the best songs ever written is “Live Forever,” which he wrote with his son Eddy. With a smile as warm as Texas sunshine, Shaver often introduces the song by telling audiences, “Live forever, y’all, whether you want to or not.” Billy Joe Shaver and his band will perform at The Nick on Friday, December 9, with local heroes Caddle opening. Call 252-3831 or go to for details.

Black & White: Have you still got your dogs? I heard a story about you and your buddy Kinky Friedman (singer, songwriter, and novelist who ran for governor of Texas in 2006 with Shaver as his “spiritual advisor”) rescuing a three-legged dog named Momma.
Billy Joe Shaver: Well, one of my dogs died but I’ve still got a pit bull—black one that’s six years old. When I was young we were too poor to have a dog. When I started gettin’ dogs I started out with pit bulls. They’re just as sweet as they can be. It just depends on how you raise em, you know? Her name is Honeybee . . . But yeah, Momma (the dog) had one leg torn off ’cause she had been in a fight. Kinky picked her up and brought her on in to his place (Friedman has a no-kill animal shelter on his Texas ranch) and kind of worked on her a little bit and she got real healthy. So I paid money to put up a pen for her and she didn’t have but three legs. We called it Billy Joe Shaver’s “underdog pen.” (Laughs) Finally, a Vietnam veteran who’d had his leg blow’d off came out there and fell in love with her and now she’s got her a nice home. Kinky’s got a big heart. We’ve been friends a long time, since about ’66.

How did you meet Kinky?
His father introduced me to him. His father was a big fan of mine, Tom Friedman. He was a World War II pilot and also head of psychiatry there at the University of Texas. Tom used to come to my shows. Tom and Kinky’s whole family would come to my shows when I was playin’ in Austin, and Kinky would be playin’ across town. Kinky came over to my show one time kind of mad and said (to his family), “Why don’t y’all come to see me?” And Tom would say, “Well, Kinky we can see you any time. Besides that, you need to get some new jokes. (Laughs) I’ve got Tom’s old jacket—it says “God Bless John Wayne” on it and everything. I’d pretty much do anything for Kinky. Kinky was the first one of us that hung out at (unintelligible) Bar that got to go on the Grand Ole Opry. He sang “Sold American.” Then he went on tour with Bob Dylan. Now he writes books and stuff.

When you played the Opry, how’d you get along with the establishment there in Nashville?
I never had any problems. I’ve been on it many times. I got along with ol’ whats-his-name—that tall, skinny guy— uh, uh, Porter Wagoner. He didn’t get along with very many people but he got along with me pretty good. One night he was tellin’ (the audience), “Billy Joe Shaver has songs recorded by Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, and Bob Dylan (Wagoner pronounced it “Die-lan”). And I said, “Naw, it ain’t ‘Die-lan’, his name’s Dylan!” And Porter said, “I said his name was ‘Die-lan!’ And I said, “Naw, it’s not either, it’s Dylan!” And people were laughin’ like hell, and Porter got a kick out of it, too. So we became pretty good friends.

I saw a picture of you at George Jones’ 80th birthday party this past September. How has George stayed alive so many years with all the drinking and hard living that he did all his life?
(Laughs) I don’t know, I think they ran a (George Jones) substitute in on us (from time to time). I love George. I’ve known him about 30 years.

You gave up that lifestyle years ago, didn’t you?
Yeah . . . I got in a shootin’ incident down there (in Texas) and I had to shoot an ‘ol boy—well, he was tryin’ to shoot me. But I was innocent; I was just tryin’ to defend myself. He’s the one who started the fight. I finally got off. I wrote a song about it called “Wacko from Waco.”

I read that when the prosecuting attorney asked why you didn’t just leave the bar after the man you shot had earlier appeared threatening, you replied, “Ma’am, I’m from Texas. If I were chicken shit, I would have left, but I’m not.” Is there anything that you’re scared of?
Naw. (Pauses for a few seconds) Naw, I’m not, but that’s kind of stupid of me. But I’m not ’cause I’ve got Jesus in my heart. I don’t care one way or the other. If it’s my turn to go, I’ll go.

How long ago did you find Jesus?
Oh, way back yonder. When I wrote “An ‘Ol Chunk of Coal” I got born again. I still make mistakes and stuff like that but that’s part of it. You get to start all over again with a clean slate.

You used to be a rodeo cowboy, didn’t you?
Yeah, I used to do that enough to know that I wasn’t cut out for it. (Laughs)

Tell me about having a heart attack on stage in 2001.
Yeah, I had a heart attack in Gruene Hall on stage. That was after my son Eddy had passed away. Jesse Taylor, an old friend of mine, was playin’ guitar for me. When Jesse was a child, they had a car wreck and one of his ears was kind of messed up and he couldn’t hear very good out of it. It would just be my luck: that ear was toward me and every time I’d put my finger up and say, “This is the last one,” he’d think I wanted to do one more. And this elephant is sittin’ on my chest and I’m tryin’ to get him to quit startin’ them durn things [songs]. I finally got off stage and I thought, “Well, God, you’re gonna let me die in the oldest honky tonk in Texas. Thank you very much.” Sure enough, I didn’t die. Then my T-shirt (merchandise) girl, she come and got me and took me down to Waco. They checked me out and I only had one artery workin’ and it was only 10 percent. So I was almost dead.

I didn’t realize until recently that “Live Forever” was originally your son Eddy’s idea.
Yeah, it was Eddy’s melody. I carried it around for durn near a year before I could figure out what to put with it. Then I put with it what I thought was right and I went to Eddy and we finished it together.

Did you ever see Hank Williams, Sr. play?
I saw him that one time when I was a kid. I walked down the railroad tracks about 10 miles to see him. I didn’t know he was goin’ to be on the show, he was a surprise guest. I crawled up a pole to keep people from sittin’ on my feet. They introduced Hank and said (to the crowd), “You ought to listen to this ‘ol boy. He’s gonna be alright.” This was before he was a star. He didn’t play but one song. People was doin’ their bootleggin’ and stuff during that time and wasn’t payin’ no attention to him ’cause they never heard of him. And that’s the way people are. But he saw I was listening and he looked up at me straight in the eye and just sung to me.

I guess you’ve been on Willie Nelson’s bus a few times. I don’t think anybody was surprised when Willie got arrested for pot during a bus search a few years ago but they might have been surprised about the funny mushrooms the cops found.
Yeah. (Laughs) I don’t imagine they [the police] went too deep into the bus before they kinda about half passed out. &

No Sitting in Limbo

No Sitting in Limbo

North Coast Development Corporation pursues a vision of self-reliability for the people of Haiti.


November 24, 2011

Ann Piper Carpenter of Cahaba Heights is a woman of action, pouring her energy into Haiti’s northern coastal area to help impoverished Haitians help themselves. “For about two years now I’ve been going to a town outside of Cap Haitien on the north coast area of Haiti called Terre Rouge. I started going there because the priest at my Episcopal church had worked with some people out of Georgia who established a school and a clinic there, and they are doing excellent work,” Carpenter explains. “Haiti has about 75 percent unemployment. It’s tough. There are so many wonderful organizations that are sending medical and educational care. And I’m not skilled in any of that. The only thing that I thought I could do was to see if we could start some economic development in that area.”

She found a woman in Terre Rouge who was running a school to teach young girls how to sew and has been taking fabric to them for a little over a year. “They’re making tote bags, aprons, napkins, pillowcases. This is some way to give them some money for their work,” she says, noting that she buys the products made or grown from the seamstresses, farmers, and beekeepers, and then brings them to the United States to sell in small quantities. A’Mano (a furniture, gifts, and arts shop) in Mountain Brook Village has been stocking some of the items.

Because her town doesn’t have electricity, a Haitian woman uses a treadle sewing machine at a factory affiliated with the North Coast Development Corporation. (click for larger version)


Carpenter, who spends a week out of each month in Terre Rouge, started North Coast Development Corporation a year ago to do business in Haiti. “I don’t want to be a nonprofit because what I’m trying to do is to develop things that Haitians can eventually take over and run themselves,” she says. “I don’t want them to be dependent on aid. I think they want things that they can develop and own, eventually. We’re just trying to facilitate what those products might be and put some people together that give them some market access. If it’s not these products, then at least maybe to get somebody who’s interested in having us make something.”

Andy English is the executive director of North Coast Development. He met Carpenter in Port Au Prince in 2009 and has a dozen years of experience working in the country. He currently spends two weeks out of each month there. “I was a consultant with the World Bank,” English says. “[Ann] was trying to do a little sewing operation down there, mainly to produce scrubs (medical uniforms). She was trying to supply the clinic that she supports, as well as some other clinics in the region. The only problem is that the volume to sustain a factory like that is pretty high. It would take a lot just to break even. We shelved that idea and she asked me to come up to the north to take a look.”

The company leases about 10 acres of land for its projects in the arid North Coast area. “There’s not a lot up there—there’s not a lot of anything. Mostly it’s all open land, brush scrub, not a lot of things that are growing. It’s a formidable place to start anything,” admits English. “When you start looking a little deeper you find a lot of resources that are not being put to use, which is typical of Haiti. There’s a tree called a ‘Neem’ tree that grows well in Haiti, the Indians brought it over about 40 or 50 years ago. Neem seeds can be ground into a powder that is then sprayed on crops as a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides, which the Haitians need for insect-damage control. “When we went to farm, we looked at different things we could do because some things just wouldn’t work. Tomatoes and things that took a lot of water just wouldn’t work,” he says. “We could grow peppers. Half of our 10 acres is planted with peppers and papaya or mango or coconut or banana—anything that I could grow that would accommodate the peppers. We’re able to do minimal watering, which is done by hand. The soil is clay, so the papaya is able to tap into whatever water is there in the soil. Papaya have been outstanding, I’m amazed how fast they do grow. The mango that we planted is indigenous to that region—it’s called a Baptiste mango. It’s a favorite of Haiti but it only grows where we are. So in about three years when they finally start producing, we should be in pretty good shape.”

A company in St. Augustine, Florida, that makes a pepper sauce has expressed interest in North Coast Development’s peppers, and a woman in New York is interested in importing ingredients from Terre Rouge for herbal teas. There has been interest in purchasing Haitian honey to mix with peanut butter, as well as a potential market for the honey to be blended with peppers to make a honey-pepper marinade. The most frustrating hurdle is transportation, says English. “Cap Haitien is limited in how it can export. To get it to Porte Prince, there is no good road. If you try to drive, it can take anywhere from six to eight hours. If the road was good, it’s only a three-hour trip.” He adds that the 2010 earthquake worked as a catalyst in some ways. “In reality, it jump-started and got some attention on some things that were already enacted.”

“We’re just trying to take advantage of whatever resources are there locally for these folks and see what we can help them do. We’ve put a little money into this. Been trying to find markets. That’s what this sale is about,” says Carpenter of an upcoming “Made-In-Haiti Sale” at Little Savannah restaurant. “I’ve got honey, beeswax candles, peppers, sewing, and I’m also bringing a lot of things from that area that other people have made that I didn’t have a thing to do with. They’re all made-in-Haiti products. That’s what it’s all about, trying to get some economy going down there. I’m just figuring that by putting things out here, it’ll catch somebody’s attention, I hope.”

Northern Coast Development has established the first Internet café in the Terre Rouge area. “I was down there when the Techno Café opened and they brought school kids in from the area,” Carpenter says. “It was their first exposure ever to a computer!” She notes that old-fashioned treadle sewing machines operated with a foot pump are used in the garment shop with which she’s affiliated. “We haven’t invested in the larger generators that it would take to put in electric sewing machines,” she says.

“So many people are doing so many things in Haiti and you wonder why doesn’t it get any better,” she says with a hint of resignation. “All the money that goes down there, all the schools, all the clinics. But they just don’t have jobs. They get educated, and then those that can leave, leave. And it’s so impossible to get goods in and out of there. That’s why I have to go every month. I have to take supplies and then I have to go back and pick up the things they make. There’s no UPS or DHL.”

“It’s so impossible to get goods in and out of there. I have to take supplies and then I have to go back and pick up the things they make. There’s no UPS or DHL.” —Ann Piper Carpenter

The Haitian people have impressed Carpenter with their intense desire to take care of themselves. She says that there has been no shortage of people seeking work at the North Coast Development farm and sewing shop but unfortunately there are not enough goods being sold yet, so most are turned away. “I had my doubts for many reasons but felt sure it would work,” admits Carpenter. “During a visit there, my son, his friend, and I watched the Alabama-Arkansas game at the Techno Café with our Haitian friends. Imagine that, in a town with no running water or electricity.” &

On Sunday, December 4, Little Savannah restaurant (3811 Clairmont Avenue in Forest Park) will host a Made-In-Haiti Sale from 2 to 6 p.m. There will be valet parking. Items for purchase will include aprons, napkins, bags, skirts, throw pillows, pillowcases, honey, Christmas candles, sea salt, wood carvings, jewelry and Haitian art. Call 381-3553 for details.

Fruitcakes in Monroeville


Fruitcakes in Monroeville

November 24, 2011

Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory,” the timeless tear-jerker that first appeared in Mademoiselle magazine in December 1956, will be staged in Monroeville for the fourth consecutive year on Thursday evening, December 1. Capote spent much of his early childhood in Monroeville, raised by relatives after his parents divorced.The drama is the highlight of the town’s annual Fruitcake Festival, staged in the second floor courtroom of the town’s fabled courthouse which is the setting for much of resident Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The courthouse is now the Old Courthouse Museum, which includes Capote memorabilia donated by a cousin of the famed author. Locally-made fruitcakes in decorated tins (many with Capote-related themes) will be for sale during the festival, according to Nathan Carter of the Monroe County Heritage Museum.

Monroeville Fruitcake

Monroeville Fruitcake

Carter’s grandmother was Capote’s mother’s sister, and he remembers one of the last visits the author made to Monroeville in the mid-1960s. “I was maybe five or six. Harper Lee was there. It was during the time he was working on In Cold Blood,” Carter says. He and other young relatives were brought into a room to be introduced: “This is your cousin Truman.” Carter recalls that the children were then “asked to make ourselves scarce and not to bother the world traveler.”

Fruitcake in round or loaf shapes — all prepared from local family recipes”—will be for sale all day at the museum. Delicacies known as “fruitcake rocks” will also be available. When asked to define a “fruitcake rock,” Nathan Carter charmingly explains, “It’s like drop biscuits—they’re irregular in shape. Each is like two or three bites and then you’re done with it.”

Admission to “A Christmas Memory” is $25, with show time at 7 p.m. A reception with more fruitcake follows. Call 251-575-7433 or go to for details.

Hotheads Return to Talladega

Hotheads Return to Talladega

Driver Kevin Harvick out for a Sunday afternoon hunt with his favorite weapon, his Goodwrench Chevy.

Dale Earnhardt’s death two years ago on the final lap of the Daytona 500 left no shortage of NASCAR drivers contending for Earnhardt’s celebrated role as a racetrack bully. Driver Kevin Harvick, who replaced Earnhardt in the Goodwrench Chevrolet, immediately developed a reputation as a hothead who refused to retreat from confrontation. After one race, he chased an opponent (on foot) who had bumped him on the track, leaping from the roof of a competitor’s racecar to pounce on the offender—all in front of a national television audience. Harvick later violently bumped his nemesis in the following weeks and was suspended by NASCAR.

Tony Stewart, 2002 Winston Cup champion, filled the Earnhardt void with even more abandon. Over the next two years at various racetracks, Stewart ran up a list of impressive bad boy behavior. He crashed into driver Jeff Gordon on the “cool down” lap following a race at Bristol Speedway; intentionally knocked a tape recorder from a reporter’s hand while being interviewed; punched a photographer in Indianapolis; shoved an emergency worker who was attempting to help him from his wrecked racecar at New Hampshire Speedway; and pushed aside a woman asking for an autograph in Bristol. Stewart finally entered anger management counseling after his racing sponsor Home Depot fined him $50,000 and threatened to fire him.

The sporting world’s most exciting soap opera, NASCAR racing, returns to Talladega Superspeedway September 25 through 28 for the EA Sports 500 weekend. Driver Kurt Busch is currently playing this season’s villain with relish—his summer feud with driver Jimmy Spencer erupted into fisticuffs in the garage after the race at Michigan this past August.

Amidst all the intentional wrecks, name-calling, and brutal punches, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be vying for his fifth straight Winston Cup victory at Talladega. Adding another bit of drama to this year’s EA Sports 500, veteran driver Terry Labonte ended a four-year losing streak when he won the final Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway. The Southern 500 (formerly the Rebel 500) is the oldest race on the NASCAR circuit, but officials have decided to move the race to California Speedway beginning next year as stock car racing continues to expand beyond its Dixie roots. This weekend also marks the final race at Talladega in which the NASCAR series will be known as Winston Cup; next year Nextel will replace R.J. Reynolds as the series’ official sponsor.

Despite the cosmopolitan marketing employed by NASCAR to diminish its longstanding redneck image and reach a wider audience, it’s good to see that redneck tempers still veer out of control at 200 mph. Call 256-362-7223 or visit —Ed Reynolds