If you ask Billy Joe Shaver, the distance between acting and being a musician isn't very far at all.
The legendary Texas singer-songwriter remembers one particularly bad evening, early on in his storied career, when the show just wasn't coming together. Instead of swallowing his frustration, Shaver wasn't shy about letting the audience know he wasn't pleased. Someone in attendance pulled him aside afterward and imparted advice he has followed to this day.
"[He told me] 'These people didn't pay to see you have a bad night -- act like you're having a good night. These people spent hard-earned money to come see you,'" the now 73-year-old troubadour recalls. "From that point on, I had to act quite a bit because we didn't run into good sound systems [back then], but I think it was a leg up."
Shaver never made a full transition to acting, despite his handful of screen credits in acclaimed feature films like Robert Duvall's The Apostle or Secondhand Lions. Nevertheless, the Corsicana native will be honored for his contributions to cinema Thursday with the Stephen Bruton Award during the Lone Star Film Festival's gala ball at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Previous recipients include Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson (who will be on hand to give Shaver the award) and T Bone Burnett.
"It's quite a big deal to me," Shaver says. "I don't really know why I'm getting it ... but Stephen was my first guitar player and he was a great guy and I loved him like a son, really. It meant a lot for me that this [award] happened."
Shaver fondly remembers Bruton's time in his band: "A lot of places we couldn't get into because he wasn't old enough to get into, but he played so good nobody paid attention to him."
The Bruton-related tribute comes during a year in which Shaver was accorded another honor, a place in the Live at Billy Bob's Texas collection (his contribution was released in July).
"Billy Bob's has long been one of my favorite places of all time anyway, because the people over there are so nice and good to you," Shaver says. "[The live album] came off real good. It was real nice. It [means] more to me than most normal people; my great-great-great-grandfather ... and two other fellows formed the Republic of Texas, so I'm true-blue Texan. You don't get much more Texas than Billy Bob's."
Most of all, Shaver no longer has to step onstage and "act" his way through a show -- he's able to truly enjoy himself and the music that has endeared him to multiple generations of fans.
"It's like harvesting whatever I've planted -- I can go anywhere, any day of the week and fill a place up," Shaver says. "It's easier for me now, because people are listening, which is something they weren't doing when I started, which happens to everybody. ... I always have a good time."
For video of my conversation with Shaver, visit dfw.com/music.