"I was just barely able to get Eddy on the album. I don't know what it was all about. I never intended for him not to play on my record. He was fixin' to go do his own gig. You know, he had his own recording contract. Matter of fact, he was supposed to start that (a solo album for the Austin-based Antone's label) on the second of January. I can't say much bad about it. It just all turned out good. Except for Eddy. That's the only part."
In many ways - particularly in light of recent events - the new album's centerpiece is "Blood is Thicker Than Water," an emotionally intense duet between father and son in which Billy Joe spends the entire first verse complaining about his son's choice of a wife while Eddy later retorts "I've seen you pukin' out your guts and runnin' with sluts when you was married to my mother."
When asked if the song if the song was close to the reality of the situation, Shaver quietly replies, "Pretty close, yeah."
Even the lyrics having to do with Eddy's choice of a wife?
"Well, I don't want to go there, but nobody would be happy about a situation with drugs and things. But it wasn't like cussin' him out and things like that. It was like trying to coax somebody in off a ledge; trying to talk and keep 'em from jumping. And that's the way I feel they need to be treated. Because, hey, they'll take a dive right quick or they never would have done that thing in the first place. There's gotta be an answer to that somewhere. It seems to permeate the music scene."
"Drug dealers will sell to these young kids. And these young kids can't go buy beer and stuff. They can buy drugs, though. They can buy drugs so easy, and they cover it up so easy. (Heroin) has gotten real cheap is what's happened. And then, too, there's a lotta people making money."
"Blood is Thicker Than Water" is immediately followed on the new album by "Star in My Heart," a far less bitter song that sounds like a goodbye of sorts - or at least a "so long" - with lines like, "Though we are many worlds apart, I'm still your friend."
Was this also directed at Eddy?
"Yes, it was. I wrote that to him when he went out to Encino, you know, to dry out. And he stayed out there quite a while. Then he walked out, got out of there and came back. During that time, I wrote that song. It sounds like a love song to someone you're leaving. It could be taken that way, I guess."
Is it difficult for Billy Joe Shaver to promote his new album, four months after the death of his son and musical partner?
"No, not really...well, yeah. Everything's difficult for me and it's going to be, probably, for a while. But we're getting a lot of reaction from (the new album), and we're booking a lot. I got (Joe Ely guitarist) Jesse 'Guitar' Taylor playing with me. And I got another fella playing for me, Bob Brown, so he can cover slide and things like that. Y'know, it's a pretty big hole Eddy left. You don't realize how much he did until he's gone."
At one point in the conversation the subject of the Allman Brothers - one of Shaver's all-time favorite acts - comes up, with Billy Joe mentioning that Allmans guitarist Dickey Betts recognized Eddy's talent before Billy Joe did himself. Even across a 2,000-mile telephone connection one can hear Shaver light up with pride when asked when he realized how talented Eddy was.
"Oh, when he was about 12. He played drums 'til he was 12. Then one day I had a guitar I had trouble tuning sometimes, mostly because I'd been up too long or something. I throwed it over on the couch one night, and he picked it up. I was in the kitchen, and I heard somebody playing the thing. And I came back in, and I said, 'You play guitar?' And he says, 'Sure, I play guitar.' And I says, 'Well, can you tune it?' And he says,'Well, of course I can tune it! You've got to tune it to play it!' So I says, 'Well, you're gonna be my guitar tuner from now on.' He was influenced by Dickey and Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter. He came from that rock side. And then we kind of grew up together when he joined the band."
Shaver has said in recent interviews that "The Earth Rolls On" is likely going to be his last recording for his current label. Is there any particular reason?
"No. I just want to get done with it. I want this to be my last big effort. I'm dedicating this album to Eddy and this tour and everything that has anything to do with our music. I'm doing it to honor him and his memory. If I decide I want to do another record, they'll talk to me. I just kinda wanted to have a chance to stop for a while and think about it."
Though Shaver doesn't anticipate recording another album for New West, he continues to write new material, saying, "It's the cheapest psychiatrist there is. It's a good release."
He also doesn't anticipate ever going back to hawking songs as a significant source of income.
"I do well writing songs. But I've seen early that my songs wouldn't get the exposure. And more'n likely wouldn't get recorded because, well, you send 'em around to people in Nashville and wind up hearing a bunch of things that sound like 'em, but your name ain't on 'em, so I quit doing that."
When asked about recent reports that he's been considering publishing a book of poetry, Shaver says it'll probably happen at some point, but probably not for some time yet.
"I've got a whole bunch of poems and stuff that I've written down through the years, but right now I'm engrossed in this music so much."
"I went and seen my English teacher the other day. She's 100 years old, and she's still sharp. Her name's Mrs. Leff. She actually quoted me poems I'd written back when I was in school. That floored me. She was my homeroom teacher. She wasn't even my real teacher. She was just one that picked up on what I was doing and encouraged me."
Does Shaver hope to live to be 100?
"I don't think so. You know, I wanted to die a lot here lately. I went and had my neck operated on, and I had to have two discs removed and a steel plate put in my neck a bit less than two months ago. And it still hurts. My arm's still healing. During that operation I thought, 'Wow, it'd be cool if I could just go on.' But I guess the doctor didn't want me to. I wasn't trying to kill myself or nothin'. I just thought it'd be cool with me if I just went on. Since then I've realized that you don't get to pick when you go, and you might as well just give it everything you've got while you're here. So, that's what I'm doing."
When talking to Shaver one is struck by the man's deep faith and religious conviction. And considering recent events, it's tempting to draw comparisons between Shaver and Job.
Asked if he ever feels like he's being tested by God, Shaver replies, "No. I look around, and there's people in worse situations than I'm in. There's a lot of people going through a lot of things. Jesus Christ is my savior, and that's it."
"Willie said, 'Everything's in God's hands anyway, 'cause if we had wisdom we'd fuck it up.'"