Yeah yeah, we get these tribute albums to country legends coming down the pipeline every few weeks or so it seems. But when you can get “King” George Strait to show up and participate in one of them, now you’re making some serious news.
Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver is gearing up to be released via New West Records on November 11th with participation from Willie Nelson, Ryan Bingham, Rodney Crowell, Miranda Lambert, Steve Earl, Allison Russell and more. But perhaps the track many were anticipating the most has already arrived in the form of George Strait covering Billy Joe Shaver’s “Willy The Wandering Gypsy.”
This song was really the linchpin to Billy Joe Shaver’s entire career. While hanging out back stage before Willie Nelson’s legendary Dripping Springs Reunion in 1972—aka the Hillbilly Woodstock—Billy Joe Shaver was picking on “Willy The Wandering Gypsy” when Waylon Jennings got a whiff of it. Jennings then invited Billy Joe Shaver to Nashville to help write songs for his next album.
Perhaps to Waylon, it was one of those “stop by if you’re ever in town” sort of invitations that you never expect someone to take you up on, because when Shaver arrived in Nashville, Waylon spent the next few months dodging ol’ Shaver. It was a showdown in the hallway of Tompall Glaser’s renegade “Hillbilly Central” studio when Billy Joe Shaver finally got Waylon to pay attention. Shaver threatened to kick Waylon’s ass “in front of God and everybody.” No ass kicking happened though. Waylon listened, and recorded an entire album of Billy Joe Shaver songs, now known as the immortal Honky Tonk Heroes.
Another tie into country history is that “Willy and the Wandering Gypsy” is actually about Willie Nelson, despite how the name is spelled in the song’s title. Since they were both from near the Waco area, Willie and Billy were buddies, and Shaver always looked up to Nelson. “Willy, you’re wild as a Texas blue norther, ready rolled from the same making as me…” Willie would return the gesture by cutting a few songs in tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, including “Wacko from Waco” and “Hero.”
George Strait is also from Texas of course, but he comes from the following generation of country performers, and rarely interacted with folks like Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver for most of his career. But now that Strait is mostly retired, he’s more open to these kinds of collaborations. It’s cool to see someone of the stature of George Strait take the time to pay tribute to Billy Joe Shaver.
Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver is now available for pre-order.