Willie Nelson called him "the best songwriter alive today," and Kris Kristofferson compared him to Hemingway. For the last four decades, the 72-year-old Shaver has burnished his reputation and overcome personal tragedy while creating timeless country music befitting his humble roots. With but an eighth-grade education and missing two fingers from a lumber-mill accident, Shaver went to Nashville and fell in with the burgeoning outlaw movement. Waylon Jennings heard Shaver play "Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me," at Nelson's Fourth of July party and offered to record an entire album of these "cowboy songs." Shaver chased him for six months and threatened to kick his ass before Jennings finally recorded his classic Honky Tonk Heroes with Shaver compositions on 11 of its dozen tracks. Many others would turn his songs into hits, and he's enjoyed a long recording career. During the '90s he released several particularly rocking albums with his guitarist son Eddy, including 1993's terrific Tramp On Your Street. (Eddy overdosed New Year's Eve in 2000.) Shaver's music is notable for its earnest, unadorned honesty (cf. "Old Chunk of Coal"). "Everybody is trying to be like everybody else," he said a few years ago. "So if you write something honest it's going to be different."
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