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Albums Of The Week: Billy Joe Shaver & Kinky Friedman | Live Down Under

Two legendary Texas troubadours trade tunes in this tremendous tag-team outing.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Before Billy Joe Shaver’s death in 2020, Willie Nelson called him the greatest living songwriter. That isn’t out of line, as Billy Joe is a member of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and a winner of the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award. Aside from his own recordings, his songs have been covered by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Patty Loveless, and more, and were featured in Academy Award-winning films like Crazy Heart. Kinky Friedman is another singer, songwriter, novelist, and satirist. He holds the distinction of being the only artist who taped an episode of Austin City Limits that was never aired due to fears that the content was too controversial. He even ran for the office of Governor of Texas in 2006. His spiritual advisor for that campaign? Billy Joe Shaver. But that wasn’t the first time they worked together.

“Ladies and gentlemen, two Texas legends: Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman!” announced Jeff “Little Jewford” Shelby before the nightly coin toss to decide who in this dynamic double bill — quadruple heart-bypass contender Billy Joe or singing crime novelist Kinky — would go first. The spotlight then passed back and forth between the duo, supported in Vaudevillian fashion by guitarist Jesse Taylor, Washington Ratso and of course Little Jewford.

Depending on how you look at it or who’s talking, the Live Down Under tour either shouldn’t have happened or was the best thing that could’ve happened. Either way, it was a minor miracle, most would say — and now it’s a thing of myth and legend.

It started when Shaver, still recovering from the loss of his mother, wife and son, was lured out of mourning in 2001 by the Kinkster to do their Two For Texas tour that ended with Billy Joe unexpectedly suffering a heart attack at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas that August. Angioplasty was performed but Shaver, fearing the risks, was resisting medical advice to have quadruple heart-bypass surgery taking karmic instruction from Willie to get out and stay active. Soon commitments to bring the tour to Australia were made.

Friedman: “The doctors wanted him to have the surgery but he said no. And they didn’t want him going to Australia with Kinky. That it was the wrong thing to do. But Billy Joe was in a dark place; the recent family tragedies, the health concerns. Staying home with the curtains drawn and all its temptations seemed as risky as going. Willie and I both agreed, the best therapy he could have was to get out and have a good time.”

And it was. Billy Joe performed every night like his life depended on it. And it pushed everyone to the same level of intensity. Featuring hits like Honky Tonk Heroes, You Asked Me To, Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed, Sold American and more, showcasing some of the best material from both writers’ storied careers, and delivered in a way that only these best friends and odd couple could. So put on Live Down Under, sit back, listen and perhaps come to appreciate these two unique artists in a way you hadn’t before. A one-of-a-kind experience.”