Memories with Billy Joe Shaver by Ken Boutwell

Mandatory Credit: Photo by EMG/REX/Shutterstock (9694228f) Billy Joe Shaver performs at Country Music Hall of Fame Country's Roaring 70s: Outlaws and Armadillos Exhibition Opening Concert, Nashville, USA - 25 May 2018

Imagine you’ve been writing songs for almost 20 years and you’re at the end of your rope, ready to throw in the towel, when you get a message on your phone that says “trim this and I’ll record it on my next album” and then Billy Joe Shaver is singing a song he started and wants you to finish it.

It all started when I had gone to one of Billy’s concerts when he came to Nashville with a friend of mine, who was also a friend of Billy’s.  He was going to introduce us, but Billy wasn’t feeling good after the show and didn’t see anyone.  I bought his autobiography at the show that night.

Billy was a big boxing fan and wrote in his autobiography how much he admired heavyweight contender, Earnie Shavers. Just by chance, prior to becoming a songwriter, I was a prize-fighter and was in the ring with Earnie in 1983. I was able to put Billy and Earnie on the phone together for, what Billy called, “a great conversation.”

At the next concert, the crowd was so packed, that Billy Joe actually tapped me on the shoulder so that he could pass to go backstage.  I was prepared for just such a moment and put a note in his pocket and told him that it was the phone number for Earnie Shavers.  Billy Joe called him and then called me and that started our friendship.

Billy and I would swap phone calls and text messages, talking about boxing and songwriting.  Before I met him at the Factory, he suggested we write a song together about a boxer.  This is when I slipped pass security and confronted Billy back stage somewhat of how he did Waylon.

Pictured is my son’s guitar, the one I used convincing security I was in Billy Joe Shaver’s band to get back stage when he was performing at The Factory, in Franklin, TN, for Music City Roots. I walked up to Billy and put 3 songs in his shirt pocket and said “you promised to write a song with me and I’m going to hold you to it”. It took 2 years, but Billy Joe Shaver finally called.

Billy would later tell me the story behind the song. He said “I had a fight with the devil last night and didn’t think I was going to make it, but I did. I asked Jesus to get me through this just one more time.” The next morning, when Billy woke up, he sat on the foot of his bed and started writing the song, entitled “Fight with the Devil”.

Billy wanted to use a boxing analogy for the song, of fighting the devil and winning, so he sang me a verse and a chorus in a phone message in 2018. I worked on my part of the song, mixing my lyrics with his, and sent him an email with the possible song. Billy wrote back:




He approved my lyrics, and liked what I added, but his declining health kept us from getting into a studio to cut it. For me, as a songwriter, that was validation of 20 years, and equal to winning a Grammy.

Over the years, we would talk many times, swapping stories of our bar-room brawls and close calls, always hanging up the phone laughing. Just before midnight, Friday night (October 27, 2020), Billy called from the hospital to say, “when I get out, I’m going to push your songs and help you”.

Billy always ended his calls saying, “I love you, brother.”

I want people to know the Billy Joe Shaver off stage, always pulling for the little guy and the unknown songwriter like me. “Just be yourself in life and in your lyrics”, he would say.

Below are the lyrics to the Song written by Billy Joe Shaver & Ken Boutwell on August 6, 2018 

I had a fight with the devil last night 

He near bout knocked the hell out’a me 

He hit me with a wrong I nailed him with a right 

I had a fight with the devil last night. 

I’ve been on the floor so many times before 

Down on my knees, lookin’ up 

Figured while I was there, might as well say a prayer 

Lord knows I could use some luck. 


I was knee deep in sin, leading with my chin 

And in the worse shape of my life 

I asked forgiveness of my sins, then got my second wind 

I had a fight with the devil last night. 

Satan had me on the ropes, beatin’ down and nearly broke 

Lord, I’m praying I can stay in ‘til the bell 

Then I reached way down deep, asked Jesus for the strength 

To come back and give the devil Hell. 

Now we went toe-to-toe until the sun come up 

It was the the toughtest fight you ever saw 

But Jesus Christ, the referee, never once abandoned me 

The devil split and called it a draw.  


I was knee deep in sin, leading with my chin 

And in the worse shape of my life 

I asked forgiveness of my sins, then got my second wind 

I had a fight with the devil last night. 

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