An advance copy of The Earth Rolls On arrived in my mailbox just before I left town for the holidays, as Grant and I were in the midst of pondering what to put on our next cover. Shaver was among the things on our short list, though, as always, we never really know which direction we’ll turn until we hear the music.
It didn’t take long for me to be convinced that Shaver was indeed the way to go — about two minutes and fourteen seconds, which is the running time of the record’s leadoff track, “Love Is So Sweet”. Right off the bat I played that song three or four times in a row. If brevity is the soul of wit, Shaver’s straight-to-the-point declaration suggests it’s also the heart of love. “Love is so sweet, it makes you bounce when you walk down the street.”
Such a life-affirming sentiment certainly wasn’t what I’d expected from Billy Joe Shaver right about now. Given that he’d recently lost both his wife and mother to cancer, what seemed more likely was an album along the lines of Jackson Browne’s Late For The Sky or Lou Reed’s Magic And Loss. Those deep explorations have their place, to be sure — but I found myself feeling truly glad for Billy Joe, as if he’d stared down the darkness and found his way back to the light. “I’ve got to say, I have looked at life a whole ‘nother way.”
So it was with overwhelming disbelief and sadness that we learned just a few days later of the death of Shaver’s son and longtime bandmate, Eddy. The story was all too familiar, but the timing seemed especially unmerciful in this case.
We wondered for a while how this would affect the plans we’d made — specifically, whether it was even thinkable to ask Billy Joe if he were willing to do an interview a mere two weeks after his son’s passing, which was unfortunately what our schedule required. Nobody should have to be concerned about marketing and promotion at a time like this.
But there’s more to it than that. This is, as Billy Joe realized, the last album that will be released under the band name Shaver, the final document of decades spent making music with his son. And it’s a tremendously good record. Their accomplishment is a shining beacon that should not be lost amidst the long shadows of this tragedy.
We’re genuinely grateful to Billy Joe, then, for making the effort to talk with us about his life and his songs, and about Eddy and the music they made together. It deserves to be heard.
Our photographer friend David Wilds sent along a picture of Eddy that appears with Grant’s cover story. David also included a note about his memories of the first time he heard Shaver’s music six years ago, and of the lasting impact it has had on him.
“I have a jones for that player who will pursue a personal statement, an artistic stance that is theirs alone,” David wrote. “Easy to identify, thrilling to see or hear, but done within an existing form. Done where others have tried, only to become one more vine climbing another man’s tree. Eddy Shaver reached for the same tools that others had put a hand to. A million other kids heard what he heard growing up. At least half of them bought guitars. He did have his daddy’s circle of friends as influence, but there are lots of us who had that and we made nothing of it. He picked up those time-honored tools and made great music, his own music. Eddy Shaver became an original. Once heard, he was easy to identify, and we sought out the opportunity to hear him again. Where rock borders country, he did his work. He did it as well as I’ve ever heard.”
I reckon Billy Joe would agree.