A songwriting outlaw till the end, settling down isn’t in the cards for Billy Joe Shaver, who turns 75 this year.
“I will bop till I drop, I guarantee you,” said the country musician, set to perform at the Back 40 Amphitheatre Saturday in support of his first studio album in six years, “Long in the Tooth,” which was released Tuesday.
It’s a long road back to 1973, when the “Wacko From Waco” first debuted alongside rural rebels such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings with the album “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.”
His musical tales speak earnestly of a life born of honky-tonks and old saloons, the accompanying twang of steel-string guitars brazened with Shaver’s simple and weathered voice.
“I got all my country learning picking cotton, raising hell and bailing hay,” he sings in “Georgia on a Fast Train,” often sporting a full denim get-up and mud-colored cowboy hat onstage, three fingers on his strumming hand shaved off working a sawmill ages ago.
Shaver never enjoyed the kind of mainstream success of his friends, but was an underdog who garnered the respect of artists who included Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Cash and Jennings, who have all covered his songs.
Like many of his musical kin, Shaver has endured his share of run-ins with the law offstage. In 2007, he was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly shooting a man in the face at a bar in Lorena, Texas. Accompanied by Nelson and actor Robert Duvall in the courtroom, he was acquitted of all charges after the judge determined he acted in self-defense.
“I’m a piece in a puzzle that’ll never be found,” he said of where he fits in the transformation of country music and culture in the past 40 years.
Shaver sees himself as an outcast in a wave of younger country music stars. Joined by Nelson in his new song “Hard To Be an Outlaw,” Shaver stands his ground amid a stampede of synthesized country-pop radio tunes.
“People are singing about things they know nothing about these days,” he said. “A lot of it is flash-in-a-pan, get-rich-quick stuff.”
He considers his own work art, sure that he will live forever as long as the music isn’t forgotten, though the younger generation may not care to appreciate it.
“It’s like looking at the ‘Mona Lisa’ and saying … ‘that’s old. We oughta burn it or something,’ ” he said.
After a show at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Shaver will drive to Loomis in a 15-seater Dodge van stuffed with guitars and amplifiers, swapping driving with his bandmates along the way. When he begins his set on the modest stage of the Back 40, he expects to see a diverse crowd, young and old, wild and sophisticated.
“I get a lot nurses these days,” he said. "Maybe they’re waiting around to see if I’m gonna die.”
Shaver’s a music man first and foremost. When he lost his family 15 years ago, his wife and mother to cancer, and his son, renowned country guitarist Eddy Shaver, to a drug overdose, he still performed the shows he was booked to play.
With more than 20 records and hundreds of performances, Shaver aims to keep playing until he can’t.
“I’ve been blessed with this talent, and I show my appreciation by sharing it,” he said. “There’s nothing real noble about it. It’s just what I do.”