Memories of Billy Joe Shaver

Memories of Billy Joe Shaver, written by Ken Boutwell, October 29, 2020

Imagine you’ve been writing songs for almost 20 years and you’re at the end of your rope, ready to throw in the towel, when you get a message on your phone that says “trim this and I’ll record it on my next album” and Billy Joe Shaver is singing a song he started and wants you to finish it. 

Billy would later tell me the story behind the song.  He said “I had a fight with the devil last night and didn’t think I was going to make it, but I did.  I asked Jesus to get me through this just one more time.”  The next morning, when Billy woke up, he sat on the foot of his bed and started writing the song, calling it “Fight with the Devil”.

Billy was a big boxing fan and wrote in his autobiography how much he admired heavyweight contender, Earnie Shavers.  Just by chance, prior to becoming a songwriter, I was a prizefighter and was in the ring with Earnie in 1983.  I was able to put Billy and Earnie on the phone together for, what Billy called, “a great conversation.” 

Billy wanted to use a boxing analogy for the song, of fighting the devil and winning, so he sang me a verse and a chorus in a phone message in 2018. I worked on my part of the song, mixing my lyrics with his, and sent him an email with the possible song.  He wrote back, “Great, let’s split it”.




For me, as a songwriter, that was validation of 20 years, and equal to winning a Grammy.

Over the years, we would talk many times, swapping stories of our barroom brawls and close calls, always hanging up the phone laughing.  Just before midnight, Friday night, Billy called from the hospital to say, “when I get out, I’m going to push your songs and help you”. 

Billy always ended his calls saying, “I love you, brother.”

I want people to know the Billy Joe Shaver off stage, always pulling for the little guy and the unknown songwriter like me.  “Just be yourself in life and in your lyrics”, he would say.

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