Whitey Shafer passes

Famed Nashville Country music song-writer Sanger D. ‘Whitey’ Shafer passed away this past Saturday, January 12, 2019, following a long illness. He was aged 84 and had struggled with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for a few years. 

Born in Whitney, Texas, on October 24, 1934, Shafer grew up in a Gospel-singing family, listening to the music of Texas country music artists such as Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb on the radio. He had a fondness for Lefty Frizzell’s recording of If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time), a #1 hit in 1950. 

Before writing some of country’s most beloved classics such as All My Ex’s Live in Texas and Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, Shafer spent time in the Army and doing a variety of odd jobs, including working as a turkey farmer. He didn’t start writing songs until well into adulthood, at the age of 30. 

Shafer moved to Nashville in 1967 and soon began writing with others including Dallas Frazier and A. L. ‘Doodle’ Owens. 

Soon afterwards he signed a recording contract with RCA Records and a publishing deal with Blue Crest Music. Then, in the early 1970s, Shafer moved to the powerhouse Acuff-Rose Music firm. 

Shafer’s songs contributed significantly to the continuing growth of the publishing house, with his link-up with George Strait in the 1980s adding significantly to the careers of the singer and the song-writer. During the following decade Shafer wrote notable songs for Joe Diffie, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Ann Womack, Kenny Chesney, and Shawn Colvin.  

While he thrived as a song-writer, his career as a performer and recording artist was not so spectacular. That said, in a career that began in 1967 and extended to about 1984, he recorded four sides for Musicor, had five singles for RCA, one for King, five for MGM-Hickory and three for Elektra; Bear Family have an album of his RCA recordings and one with selections from other catalogs.  

While naturally he is very well-known for writing big hit songs for Nashville’s Country music elite, such as George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Johnny Rodriguez, George Strait, Moe Bandy, and Keith Whitley, several bluegrass bands have dug into Shafer’s catalogue, those include Ralph Stanley (recorded March 1975), Lost & Found (also 1975) the Marshall Family (1976) and Volume Five (circa 2010) – Baptism of Jesse Taylor; Bob Paisley and The Southern Grass – I’ll Break Out Again Tonight (recorded in October 1981; Danny Paisley and The Southern Grass recorded the song in 2005); J. D. Crowe & the New South (with Keith Whitley, recorded in 1982), David Parmley (circa 1999) and Bradley Walker (2006) – I Never Go Around Mirrors; Rhonda Vincent (recorded in 1991); Kenny and Amanda Smith (2012) and Evan Maynard (circa 2015) – (The) Birmingham Turnaround; and Barry Berrier – High Steel and Memories. 

These songs had been in the repertoires of Sierra Hull & Highway 111 – That’s the Way Love Goes; The Del McCoury Band and The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band – I’ll Break Out Again Tonight; The Darrell Webb Band – That’s the Way Love Goes; and Valley Road – Baptism of Jesse Taylor. 

The Country Gentlemen included I’ll Break Out in their set list when playing at the Meguro-Sugino Hall, Tokyo, Japan, on January 18, 1971. The song was among those that were recorded, and it can be found on the Japanese double LP Live in Japan, released during the following year.  

Shafer was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989. 

The nickname “Whitey” was given to him during high school, when he was employed by a local ironworking company.  

We acknowledge the help of Jon Weisberger, another Nashville song-writer, in the writing of this obituary. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.