He talks, too, of "Texas" music: "Yeah, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff, Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newberry, Kris Kristofferson" and certainly he does fit well alongside those singer/songwriters. But his biggest influence came not from Texas but Mississippi: Jimmie Rodgers.
Shaver says, "Yeah, I pretty much, I've almost, not trying to be egotistical or anything like that, but I pretty much think that if Jimmie Rodgers were alive today these are the kinds of songs he'd be writing, they'd be a lot like the ones I write... I got a lot of influence from him and when I was just a kid, I'd listen on the radio and sing his songs."
Rodgers was as much a blues singer as anything else, and while one of the songs on Shaver's new album is called "Blue Blue Blues," it is in fact a rare Shaver song that doesn't have something of a blues feel.
He explains: "There was an African-American settlement across the railroad tracks from us [in Corsicana, Texas where he grew up], black people, and I'd go over there every afternoon and there'd be somebody over there playing a guitar and singing and I got a lot from them...we lived way out, kinda in the cotton fields out there, outside of town. Corsicana was a big gin town...has railroad tracks all around it...we lived way out in the patches, and across the railroad tracks were black people, cotton pickers just about all of them, lived in these little shacks. I'd go over there a lot...Yeah, [that music] really stayed with me. I think when you're young, like that, the biggest impressions stay with you."
Shaver sings in "Highway of Life's" title song, "You keep yourself real/and you watch what you dream/yeah you keep movin' on/on the highway of life," and the theme and imagery of traveling, of course, can be traced to Rodgers and country blues. If anything comes through in his music, whether loud and raucous or quiet and spare, it's that he is keeping himself real.
No doubt it would have been a smarter move, commercially, to try to duplicate Tramp's harder sound, which won Shaver a new generation of fans.
"Yeah, you know, gosh, we played over here (in Austin) the other night, and I realized a big, big percentage of our audience is college kids. I don't know how that happened," he laughs, "I haven't got a clue! The bands I have, you know, I've got a great band, and that kind of draws 'em to it."
But instead of emphasizing that band, he says, these were more personal songs, and so "we kept it real honest, and didn't try to bowl nobody over. And I tip my hat to the producer on that, because he left things on there, that were just like me and a guitar... (the last track, "The First and Last Time," was recorded in Shaver's kitchen, just him and his guitar)...He said 'nah, don't touch it, it's got something to it.' Most producers would say, 'no man, they'll think I did that' but he didn't. He's not that way. He's real cool."
"I hope to God (people hear this record), because I think the world of it, I know I love it, but you know it's big enough for me right now. When we got it done and the final mixes were made... and all that done, I just breathed a sigh of relief, I said, you know, 'there's one. There's a good one... It's just like it's supposed to happen."