In his 2009 song “I Feel a Change Coming On,” Bob Dylan sings, “I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver and I’m reading James Joyce.” When I first heard that line I didn’t know who Billy Joe Shaver was. Since then, however, I’ve become familiar with his music and have realized how fitting it was for Dylan to mention him with James Joyce. For, in their respective artistic realms, both Shaver and Joyce adapt styles and ideas in unique ways.
Shaver’s songs have been recorded by rock and country legends, including Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. And he has worked with many other notables, including Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, and Charlie Daniels. To me, some of Shaver’s most intriguing recordings are his gut-punching Gospel songs. Check out the videos of “If You Don’t Love Jesus (Go to Hell)” and “Get Thee Behind Me Satan.” These are what happens when you combine a bar brawling sensibility with Pentecostal theology. And here’s Shaver performing a live version of a bit more tender Gospel tune: “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ.”
Whatever you think of the appropriateness of the lyrics or message, this is darned good country music.