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He Ain't Wrong, He's Just Different

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BILLY JOE SHAVER
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Caught my old friend Billy Joe Shaver's gig last week at New York's "Hill Country."

What a hoot. Sheer down-home grit, grin, groan and guzzle, Texas style. Only thing missing was the chicken wire. (There are still joints in Texas where in the shank of the evening they drop down a curtain of chicken wire between the band and the audience to prevent thrown beer bottles from hitting singers and guitar players.)

New York, of course, is too sophisticated for that -- which may be one reason real honky-tonk music in general and the Texas genre in particular are so seldom performed up here in what the late Willie Morris dubbed "The Big Cave" (New York City).

Not that anyone would call "Hill Country" sophisticated. Owner, founder and CEO Marc Glosserman's place is as close to a genuine Texas venue as can be found in these parts. And his barbeque is the closest to the authentic Texas stuff as you're going to find in at least a 300 mile radius.

Glosserman is a refugee from Maryland, but part of his family is from Lockhart, Texas and he's had Lone Star fever for years, so we claim him.

Lockhart, as every educated person knows, is the mother church of Texas barbeque. In Lockhart, the tradition is that you eat the meat with no sauce, no condiments, served on butcher paper with white bread. That's it; somewhat like drinking good bourbon straight-up. Any other way is considered bad manners.

Shaver is a bona fide, certified "Waco Whacko" and damn proud of it. (He wrote a song with that title, one of the many he sang last week.) Until the last few years he was best known as a writer of songs made popular by the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.

More recently he became better known for shooting a man who came at him with a knife after a Waco barroom fight spilled over into the parking lot.

At his trial, he said from the witness stand something along the lines of, "If I had been chicken shit, I would have backed away. But I ain't chicken shit; I'm a Texan. So I shot him."

With the legendary Dick DeGuerin as Shaver's defense lawyer, he was exonerated by the jury. And a legend was born. None of that was quite High Noon, Red River, The Searchers, Giant or Lonesome Dove, but it was a distant (very distant) blood relative -- at least in the strain of the Texas ethos it suggested.

Anyway, Shaver was his old good self last week. Pretty quickly he got to his classic "Fast Train to Georgia" and eventually worked his way through "I'm Just An Old Chunk of Coal," "That's What She Said Last Night," "The Devil Made Me Do It The First Time" and many others he has written. These included one of my own personal all-time favorites, "Honky Tonk Heroes Like Me."

I first got to know Billy Joe years ago while doing a profile on him for 60 Minutes II. This was well before his now-famed showdown at the Waco saloon. But he hasn't changed. Yeah, he's a little older, a little more scarred, but basically the same cow-country throwback with "Ramblin' Fever" he's always been.

Good to see you again, Billy Joe. Go with God, hoss. (If you need bail money, call me.)

Dan Rather is anchor and managing editor of AXS TV's Dan Rather Reports (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET on AXS TV). For more, visit Dan Rather's Official website, Dan Rather Reports on Facebook and Dan Rather Reports on Twitter.