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Mike Judge, 'Tales from the Tour Bus,' can't get Billy Joe Shaver quite right

Dave Thomas

As a young man, Billy Joe Shaver stood in the Nashville Street in front of God and everybody and threatened to beat up Waylon Jennings. As an old man, Shaver shot a man in the face in a showdown behind a bar just south of Waco.

In between he lived a life of awesome Texas songs, and, fortunately for us, wrote them down.

Crazy talent and a talent for crazy, there’s no doubt Shaver is a perfect fit for the Mike Judge animated series “Tales From the Tour Bus,” in the midst of an eight-episode run on Cinemax. 

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But it’s too bad Judge gets a few things wrong in the Shaver episode. Oh, there’s some good stuff — the band burying their weapons and drugs before crossing into Canada, then forgetting where. And there’s some bad stuff — too much Kinky Friedman. And the telling of the 2007 shooting at Papa Joe’s in Lorena is spot-on. But three key errors stand out.

1. Judge compresses the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion story (Shaver meets Waylon) and the 1973 Willie Nelson Picnic story (Shaver meets brown recluse spider, thinks he’s Jesus, baptizes Picnic-goers in mud puddles) into one tale. 

Yeah, everyone does it. Shaver himself gets the years confused in interviews, which is no surprise given that it was nearly half a century ago. But it’s not right.

2. Judge gets the Jennings-agreeing-to-record-Shaver’s-songs story wrong. Though Shaver did annoy Jennings in the recording studio, the part about Captain Midnight and the $100 bill directly preceded Jennings facing Shaver in the Nashville street and Shaver issuing his ultimatum: “I got these songs, and if you don’t listen to them, I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of everybody.” 

Shaver might have wanted to de-emphasize that moment, for whatever reason, but it’s a key part of the legend. Is it true? If it’s good enough to be written just like that in Shaver’s and Jennings’ autobiographies, it’s good enough for me.

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3. Less a factual error than just a mistake in judgment, but ending the episode with the Big & Rich version of “Live Forever,” is just an insult to everyone who knows exactly what happened after the “devil made me do it the first time.” Shaver might not have minded the collaboration, but it never felt right to hardcore fans.

How bad was it? Well, when Judge gets around to the episode on Nancy Sinatra, I’ll expect him to close her episode with Jessica Simpson’s cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Just that bad.