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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005 04:19 am

Return of the honky-tonk hero

Texas singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver’s return engagement

Since his last appearance at the Underground City Tavern, in December 2004, Texas singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver has published an autobiography, been the subject of a live tribute CD, had his life story produced on a DVD, been cast in a major motion picture, released a solo CD of new original material, appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes and NPR’s Fresh Air, and played hundreds of live concerts across the country. Why would a 66-year-old man want to do this — shouldn’t he be on the golf course or in the bingo hall or something? Well, believe it or not, Shaver is finally getting his due after more than 30 years of struggle in the morass of near-success. Early songwriting hits put Shaver on the lost highway of semistardom and placed the typical abuses that litter it in his path. Just as he was reaching his golden years, Shaver lost his mother, his wife, and his musical collaborator and only son, Eddy, in 2000. He says that his born-again Christian faith sustained him through those grief-filled times, but he’s also said that songwriting is excellent therapy and cheaper than a psychiatrist. Known mostly for penning such classic country hits such as “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train,” “You Asked Me To,” “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” and “Honky Tonk Heroes,” Shaver has just recently come into his own as a performer. During his last visit to the UCT stage he was thrusting his fists in the air; telling wild stories of guns, guitars, women, and booze; and generally causing quite a stir, all the while guiding his band through spirited versions of his songs. Macomb resident Ed Heflin, merchandise guy for Shaver when he plays in central Illinois, considers the man a friend and stays in contact with him and his organization. “Billy has morphed into quite the song stylist, but the pure power of Diamondback (Shaver’s new backing band, Diamondback Texas, billed as the “world’s hardest-rockin’ country band”) sometimes overwhelms his subtle readings,” Heflin says. “I have a feeling that the past few months on the road has resulted in he and Diamondback melding quite well. Springfield is in for a treat.”
Billy Joe Shaver and Diamondback Texas, roll into the Underground City Tavern, 700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530, on Monday, Oct. 17. Their set starts at 9 p.m. 56 Hope Road, an acoustic funk group from Chicago now in the process of conquering the music world, stops by Mojo’s (225 E. Monroe, 217-544-3400) at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, for a CD release party. The traveling band features Springfield native Greg Fundis on drums and the songwriting duo of Dave Hamilton and Steve Goveia on acoustic guitars. The CD, Once in Our Lives, is a collection of songs recorded at various locations during the band’s on-the-road adventures of last year.
Dave Littrell, Dave Carter, and Jeff Cunningham, the original pals of Three Amigos, have made new friends and incorporated them into the band. The addition of Tim Niemeyer and Jose Santiago does not alter the group’s name, but certainly adds depth and variety to the electric and eclectic music. Their sound swaggers between instrumental funky-jazz-fusion and jam-band vocal rock, always teetering on the edge of improvisation without getting lost in the morass of self-absorption so often associated with free-style playing. The group — a collaborative effort between members of The Station, LowPhatt and the Johnny Five — plans to record and release a CD sometime in early 2006. Check them out at Mojo’s on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. and from 7 to 8 at the Springfield Area Hurricane Relief Street Festival.

The “what” did you ask? You read right: Springfield is having its very own Hurricane Relief Street Festival this Saturday on Washington Street, north of the Old State Capitol. The city of Springfield and Mayor Tim Davlin, hosts of the family-oriented event, are donating the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, and Animal Protective League. Music performances by local artists run from 2 until around 10, with acoustic singer-songwriters going first and jazz cats taking over in the evening hours. New Orleans-type food prepared by local chefs and beverages of assorted flavors will be available for purchase and consumption.
The Bowling Alley Big Band kicks off its fall season with a performance at Spillway Lanes Lounge (1025 Outer Park Drive, 217-546-5221) on Sunday, Oct. 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. The quite large big band, full of seldom-seen instruments such as trumpets and trombones, is always a sight for sore eyes and a pleasure to hear. Dancing is highly recommended.
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