Texan troubadour and spiritual survivor Billy Joe Shaver has boomeranged from deaths of his wife, son and mother and quadruple heart bypass surgery to expand his booming acting career.

Ironically, Shaver who made his third Australian tour in summer of 2002 with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman, features in two documentaries competing in the 35th Nashville Film Festival in April.

Shaver, 64, is the subject of Portrait Of Billy Joe - a documentary directed by Luciana Pedrazzi, long time partner of Oscar winning actor-director Robert Duvall.

And Shaver and The Kinkster also appeared in Nu Country - the Nick Brenner directed ABC TV documentary about the radio station that gave birth to Nu Country TV.

The screening of Nu Country precedes Portrait Of Billy Joe at 7 p m on Tuesday April 27 and 3 p m on Wednesday April 28.

"Thank you again for allowing us to present your wonderful film, and please contact me if you have any questions," Nashville Film Festival coordinator Mandy McBroom wrote to Brenner and Nu Country producer Angela Borelli.

The 56 minute Portrait Of Billy Joe debuted at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin on Saturday March 13 and enjoyed three screenings.

Shaver was running on one artery when he chanced his heart and soul on the chauffeurial skills of Nu Country Guru David Dawson and promoter Rob Hall on his tour with Kinky in February of 2002.

The singer delayed quadruple heart bypass surgery in Lone Star State capital Austin until March to enable him to honour his Australian tour commitments.

And it enabled Friedman, 59, to gain material for new novels and home-spun diplomacy for his run for Governor Of Texas - a position once enjoyed by President George Dubya Bush who hosted The Kinkster at the White House.

On their return to Texas the duo released their Live From Down Under CD on Kinky's partner and pianist Little Jewford's famed Sphincter Record label.

Former Nu Country treasurer John Karpik, whose tour pictures have appeared in organs diverse as Melbourne Herald Sun, Beat, Mixdown, People and Truth, shot the cover pix for the CD.

Billy Joe has since released his fifth live album Try And Try Again for Houston based Compadre Records.

His first live release - a cassette - was cut at the Corner Hotel in Richmond on his first Australian tour in 1989.


When Shaver landed at Tullamarine airport on Tuesday February 5, 2002, he was visibly distressed after the gruelling flight from Dallas to Melbourne via Los Angeles.

But the spirited survivor raised his hand, missing the tops of three fingers from an historic sawmill accident, in a victory salute as the other pushed a fully laden luggage trolley out of Immigration.

CLICK HERE for the Diaries of a Guru Chauffeur.

Shaver, born in Corsicana, appeared with Duval, Billy Bob Thornton and the late June Carter Cash in The Apostle in 1997.

Shaver played the best friend to Duvall's flawed Pentecostal preacher.

Since then Billy Joe and acclaimed singing actors Kris Kristofferson and Harry Dean Stanton have appeared in The Wendell Baker Story, a film written and co-directed by Hollywood heavyweight Luke Wilson.

Shaver plays the major role of a preacher and had a bit part as a biplane salesman in Secondhand Lions, a feature film in which Duvall and Michael Caine starred.

Kinky Friedman and former Texas Jewboys pianist-hit maker Billy Swan also performed with Stanton at the now defunct Old Greek Theatre, Richmond, on their 1994 Australian tour.

Missouri born Swan, writer of Clyde McPhatter smash hit Lover Please at 16 and topping charts with I Can Help, and renowned for dropping his artificial eye in glasses of beer as a party trick, was the musical director for Stanton.

But that's another story.


At The Apostle cast party Shaver played The First And Last Time, a song about his late wife, Brenda, whom he married three times.

Pedraza was enthralled with his raw emotion and mystery. And though she had never made a film, she was compelled to pick up a camera.

"I was just moved immensely by him," she said. "I thought, 'what else is behind this song? What man would write something like this?"

Billy Joe was surprised when Pedraza approached him about doing the documentary.
"I didn't think anybody actually knew I was worth messing with, but she did," Shaver said with a chuckle. "I give her a lot of credit. She really honed in on it and went all over Texas."

Pedraza, who grew up in Argentina, met Shaver when Duvall cast him in The Apostle.

"I'd seen him play when I was doing Lonesome Dove (the Larry McMurtry penned book and mini-series) down in Austin and met him briefly," Duvall said.

"So I sent him the script, and he sent a tape back. He was so natural, like he'd been doing it all his life. Not all country singers make good actors, but he has something special."


Unlike many doccos, Portrait Of Billy Joe doesn't rely on a variety of interviews and voices to tell the story.

Pedraza filmed Shaver in a variety of settings: relatives' homes, clubs and churches such as the nearby, non-denominational River Of Life Church.

She also tracked down 102-year-old Mabel Legg, a teacher who encouraged a teenaged Shaver's budding writing talent.

Sadly, Legg died shortly after she was interviewed.

Legg recognised a writing talent in her young student and encouraged him to follow his muse.

She even recited some of his poems from memory, a half century after he had written them.

But besides Legg, Pedraza focused squarely on Shaver, letting him tell his own story - one that is full of heartbreak.

He is candid about his drug and alcohol abuse, calling himself The King Of Sinners in a scene during a visit to a rural church. He is also gut-wrenchingly raw when standing in his kitchen talking about his late wife and son.

Brenda Tindell Shaver lost her two-year battle with cancer in 1999.

Guitar wizard, band mate and son Eddy toured here with Shaver when they supported Willie Nelson and the late Waylon Jennings on their 1994 Aussie sojourn.

But Eddie, who made five albums with his dad as Shaver and a solo disc Baptism Of Fire in 1996, died at 38 from a drug overdose on New Year's Eve 2000.

Billy Joe also lost his mother Victory during that same period.

"Usually when you see someone mistreated in life, they can get mean," Pedraza said. "But Billy Joe is such a kind man, so generous. You don't find people like that every day, and that's pretty much what I tried to tell in this documentary - that people shouldn't give up."
Shaver's willingness to talk about his problems with drink and drugs, stormy yet enduring relationship with Brenda, whom he married three times, his love and partnership with son Eddy and the pain of dealing with Brenda's and Eddy's deaths impressed Pedraza.

"I'm happy that Billy Joe was so generous to share all those private stories," she said.
The filmmaker says Shaver's ability to persevere through his difficulties, aided in large part through his strong Christian faith, should inspire others to take heart.

Shaver credits his re-born Christian faith for getting him through that tough year. Talking about the dark times on camera was a kind of therapy.

"It was hard in a way, but in a way it wasn't because I knew it would eternally be out, and it would be documented and over," he said.

"I hope the audience sees a lot of themselves in it because I'm like a whole lot of people. I may not be on the charts, but when people hear my songs, they understand them."

"She and Bobby (Duvall) know me better than I do. They see me in a different light than I do, and it's a good one, too."


Wilson, a fellow Texan and traditional country fan, heard Shaver's music growing up in Dallas, but he didn't make the connection when he saw the singer in The Apostle.
"I thought, 'Who is that guy?' He was so good and had so much quiet charisma to me," Wilson said.

"When I found out it was Billy Joe, I had dinner with him one time in Austin. He's just somebody I'm so interested in, and it's been nice to get to know him."

Wilson - who also appears in The Wendell Baker Story with his brother, current Starsky & Hutch star Owen Wilson - says he knew Shaver would be perfect for part of Reverend Shackleton, a resident in a retirement home that Wilson's character operates after being released from prison.

"Billy Joe's got a knack for getting a point across or getting the feeling of the scene across," Wilson explained.

"We made his character bigger and bigger and had him around more just because he did such a good job."

Wilson also said he drew inspiration from Shaver's salt-of-the-earth persona, something he doesn't see a lot in Hollywood, where he now lives.

"When I'm around him, it really makes me think about being a good, strong person," he said. "There's just no bitterness there. There's real strength and humor. I just look up to him."

And Wilson hopes the film will introduce the audience to Shaver's timeless music.

One scene includes Shaver's character singing his classic tune Live Forever.

"I really think of him as a poet," Wilson said.

"I've gone back and found earlier albums like Tramp On Your Street or Old Five & Dimers or more recent ones like Victory, and I've played them for people, and it's funny to see them be like, 'Wow, who is this guy?' I so rarely do that because I figure my tastes are my own, but whenever I give somebody one of his albums, they always love it."

The Wendell Baker Story is being edited for a possible release in our spring.


Whether Shaver will continue to grow his acting resume remains to be seen. Both Wilson and Duvall say he's got the chops.

Shaver says acting is "a whole lot easier" than making music, but music is still his first love. The muse is still with him.

"I'll bop 'til I drop I guess," Shaver says.
"We're still driving a van and pulling a U-Haul trailer, but everybody enjoys listening to us, and we enjoy playing for them."

Duvall directed Pedrazzi's film-acting debut in last year's The Assassination Tango and encouraged her to try documentary film-making.

The Waco musician said he found traveling with Pedraza and Duvall a delight.

"There was always something happening. Robert, he's constantly being Gus (the crusty, beloved ex-Ranger in Lonesome Dove) and he's a Christian, too," Shaver said. "I enjoyed the different places we went and restaurants never let him pay for nothing. That was fun."
Shaver said making the documentary helped him tone down his self-criticism.

"I've got a little more self-respect now," he said. "I'm my own self-critic . . . I'm the critic who says I can do better."

And that includes performing live with Kid Rock who worked and recorded with Billy Joe's fellow outlaws Hank Williams Jr and seven times wed former convict singer and actor David Allan Coe.

Shaver says Kid Rock will produce his next album - his sequel to Try And Try Again on Compadre. The two met through Coe.

CLICK HERE for Nu Country Guru Dawson's Diary of his chauffeurial role for Billy Joe and Kinky.

Further info about Nu Country, Portrait Of Billy Joe and Grand Theft Parsons films - www.nashvillefilmfestival.org

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