Sunday, April 25, 2010

Give Me Back My Bullet!

The guy in the picture is Billy Joe Shaver.  He is no stranger to fans of hardcore Honky Tonk, or Outlaw Country music.  Billy Joe Shaver is an undeservedly obscure entertainer. He is a sometime actor (he was in the incredible movie:  Apostle, and Shaver is) a full-time Texas Hall of Fame singer/songwriter, and life-long hell raiser.  Shaver ranks with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, and countless name artitsts in the pantheon of hardcore country outlaws.  Recently, he proved it again.

Billy Joe has lived a hard, storied life.  His son, Eddy Shaver, a virtuosos guitarist and Billy Joe's band leader throughout the 1990s died of a drug overdose.  That Billy Joe who was born in 1939 has not been long dead from organ failure is a medical miracle. 

I've been planning a story on Billy Joe Shaver for a while now.  Let me summarize:

Police in Lorena, Texas, 10 miles south of Waco, issued arrest warrants for Shaver April 2, 2007 on charges of aggravated assault and possessing a firearm in a prohibited place. This was in connection with an incident outside a tavern, Papa Joe's Texas Saloon in Lorena on March 31, 2007, in which Shaver shot a man, Billy Bryant Coker, in the face with a handgun. Coker's injuries were reported as not life-threatening.

Witnesses told police that Shaver asked Coker: "where do you want it?" and then, after the shot was fired, "Tell me you are sorry" and "No one tells me to shut up." Coker told police the attack was unprovoked. Shaver's attorney declared that Shaver had shot Coker "in self-defense" after Coker threatened Shaver with a knife.  In fact Coker, who was a "shirt tail relative" of Shaver's wife--had been stirring his cocktail with a knife in what Billy Joe construed to be a threatening manner. 

After unsuccessfully attempting to surrender to police in Austin, TX, who were unaware of the warrant, Shaver turned himself in at McLennan County Jail in Waco, TX on Tuesday, April 3. He was released after an hour on $50,000 bond and gave his scheduled performance at Waterloo Records in Austin that evening, where he reportedly told fans, "Don't forget to pray for me, and tell your kids to pray for me, too."

At his trial, Willie Nelson and actor Robert Duvall among others showed up to offer "character witness" testimony.  I think it's important to bear in mind that this is Texas, and perhaps the rules for "character" evidence as well as the jurisprudence of "self-defense" vary from the rest of the contiguous US and territories.  This is ture, because despite pretty good evidence that Shaver walked headlong into this confrontation, a confrontation he could have avoided.  So in the parking lot of Papa Joe's Bill Joe plugged Billy Coker.

A Waco jury acquitted him after a short trial on April 9, 2010.  I'm sure it didn't hurt that Shaver was represented by one of the greatest living trial attorney's,  Dick DeGuerin, or the phalanx of Texas Honky Tonk heroes and actors. 

The night of his acquittal Shaver was back on stage at the Firehouse Saloon in Houston, Texas with the great Dale Watson where he said of Billy Bryant Coker. . . "give me back my bullet!"  You can watch YouTube videos of this performace at the link.  Austin Legal which is at the link--has full coverage of the trial and of Shaver in performance.


  1. i am so damn amused by this. I almost want to move to texas. it shall be my goal win the description of "life-long hellraiser"

  2. Yeah, I love this story--wish I had been in a slightly better frame of writing and editing. I've revised, as I often do...

    Oh, and I'm pretty sure you are earning your lifelong hell raising stripes without any encouragement!