"I got to do it my way," Shaver says of "The Real Deal" CD. "I got the beats like I wanted 'em, so I could sing the best I could, which I never really got to do before. Most people kind of pigeonholed me into whatever they was doin.' It's kind of a little thing, not much, but enough that I couldn't really put forth my best effort on singing. Because I really can sing good, and people don't really know it. They like my songwriting so much that it (singing) kind of gets overlooked."
Shaver produced this CD himself, along with Joe Gracey and Big & Rich (on "Live Forever"). "Producing this album myself, it opened up a lot of doors for me to cut loose," Shaver enthuses. Big & Rich's big name appearance came about a little bit by surprise, by the way. "They hooked up with me," Shaver recalls. "I didn't know they were big fans of mine. And they were fans of Eddy, my son. But Big Kenny was the one that wanted to do the song, and John got all into it, too - especially when I was doing my vocals. He helped me quite a bit. And there's still a lot of stuff to learn, yet. There's a lot of room for improvement. I don't care who you are or how old you are."
As was suggested earlier, "Slim Chance and the Can't Hardly Playboys" is one of the funniest songs Shaver has ever recorded. Although this is an artist who has always sung honestly about the hard times he's lived through over the years, this particular song hearkens back to a more lighthearted period in his life.
"That thing has been about five albums trying to make it," Shaver explains. "It finally made it. Everybody was always, 'Don't put it in there. Everybody's going to like it, and then you'll be a novelty singer.' Well, I've got news for them. I ain't got time for nothin' else. That thing's got to be out there. It's just too good a song. Keith Christopher wrote that song with me. He's my old bass player and played with me for about five or six years."
What makes it especially funny is that the band it's named after was actually a real group at one time.
"That's what we used to call ourselves," Shaver remembers. "Keith (Christopher) had some good jokes that I threw in there, so I felt like he deserved half of (the songwriting credit for) it. He really did because I wouldn't have finished it if it hadn't been for him. He kept goading me on. We got it finished, and then I just couldn't get anybody to do it because...I don't know why...because they was afraid of it; afraid to put it in there because it might just take away from all of the good songs. But hey, I got news. It's a good song! It's a happy little song."
Shaver calls his latest CD simply "The Real Deal," and it's hard to argue with such a truthful self-assessment. He's never been anything other than what he is, which is a straight-shooting singer/songwriter. Or the real thing, the real deal.
"I'm the real deal," he states. "I'm for real. If you put your finger on me, I'm constantly changing. I'm not changing my personality or anything. I'm just constantly trying to do different stuff. If you notice, every album I try to do something different. That's why I'm winding up on small labels because at least I get to do what I want to do."
In recent years, Shaver lost a wife and a son. In fact, his son Eddy used to play in his band. Nevertheless, he doesn't consider himself cursed or anything quite as dramatic as that.
"I've always felt like this: There's no such thing as problems, only solutions," he says hopefully. "So nothing's really a problem with me." This music business has killed younger men than Shaver, yet he somehow just keeps pushing on. But honestly, creating music is still hard for him sometimes.
"It goes in spurts," Shaver admits. "Sometimes I get really, really depressed for no reason at all it seems like, and somehow I pull out of it. Just like my little old pit bull. She's hanging in there."
He also has a new woman in his life these days that helps him get by. Shaver married Wanda Lynn Canady Sept. 26.
Billy Joe Shaver is a survivor, and survival has always been one his primary song themes.
"The most of my songs are written trying to get back in the house," Shaver quips, only half-joking. "Of course, my wife's been dead since 1999. But most of 'em were written tryin' to get back in the house. And the rest of 'em were written tryin' to stay alive. And then some of 'em were written just because I was happy. And that's about it." One song in particular on this new album sure sounds like Shaver's theme song. It's titled "Try and Try Again."
"That saved my life," Shaver admits. "Now that's the last one that saved my life. And I guess it will continue to save my life every time I sing it."