Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Lone Stars Saddle Up to Bring Super Songs and Sagas; Jazz, Blues and Roots

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Lone Stars Saddle Up to Bring Super Songs and Sagas; Jazz, Blues and Roots

Article excerpt

Byline: ALAN NICHOL

THREE Texas troubadours arrive in town over the next few weeks and all are steeped in the famous songwriting tradition of the Lone Star state.

There is, after all, a long list of literate and forthright storytellers from the second largest state in the union.

The influences of blues (Louisiana is right next door), country, Mexican and European styles introduced by the early settlers gives the place a rich foundation on which to build.

Take tomorrow's guest at Gateshead's Little Theatre, Billy Joe Shaver, for example. His life story could easily be found under the heading Tall Tales from Texas!

Born in the cotton town of Corsicana, Shaver has Cherokee, Blackfoot and French blood in his veins. His father was a bootlegger and bare-knuckle fighter who left home when Billy Joe was a baby.

His mother picked cotton before nightclub work - and a spell at a place called Leslie's Chicken Shack - in Waco. He was, effectively, raised by his grandmother until he was around 12.

By 17, BJ was in the US Navy and his ultimate discharge led to a range of dead-end jobs, one of which cost him two fingers on his right hand in a sawmill incident, and endless travelling.

His luck changed in 1969, when the country singer Bobby Bare hired him as a songwriter for EUR50 a week. Things improved still further when major countrystar, Waylon Jennings, recorded a whole album of Shaver songs - Honky Tonk Heroes - and then million-seller Kris Kristofferson also helped by covering another song.

Shaver has first-hand experience of life's capacity for cruelty. He lost his mother and his wife to cancer and his guitarist son, Eddy, died of a heroin overdose in 2000. A year later Shaver suffered a heart attack on stage.

He has featured in three films, two of which were at the behest of Robert Duvall. For a man with more stories than the Empire State Building, his appraisal of his own life is best summed-up by one of his song titles. "I'm Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I'm Going To Be A Diamond Some Day)."

A WEEK later (April 12), the Cluny has a similarly effective songwriter, this time it is the former child gospel singer, Kimmie Rhodes, who was once described by Willie Nelson as an "undiscovered superstar". …

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