I name-dropped Townes Van Zandt yesterday and some people requested a little more info. So pay attention class, and soon you can impress your friends by speaking about one of the most influential fitgures in the history of alt-country.
“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world. And I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that!”- Steve Earle
Steve used to carry Zandt’s guitar case, just to be in his presence. Over the course of his 52-year life, Townes would have that effect on many. He was born in Texas and travelled around a bit, spending a couple of years in a military academy before ending up in College. The son of an oil businessman, his parents had high hopes for his future career. A travelling folk-singer was not one of them.
A rambler, gambler, hell-bent drunk and arguably the greatest American songwriter of his day, Zandt could throw a great party. Once he was teetering on the edge of his fourth floor balcony, leaning over for a rush.
“I wanted to see what it felt like, all the way up to lose control and fall. I realised that I’d have to fall, so I did’.
Slowly leaning over backwards he quickly landed flat on his back. People were screaming and rushing downstairs.
“I had a bottle of wine in my hand, I stood up and hadn’t spilt it. Then everybody rushing out knocked me down and that hurt more”.
In Houston Mickey Newbury, saw Townes one night and set him up with a recording gig in Nashville. These sessions yielded his debut record, For the Sake of the Song. From there Townes wrote and recorded prolifically, but it was Bob Dylans defiant anthem of the new generation, The Times They Are A-Changin that inspired Townes to take his job as a songwriter more seriously.
“That did it to me,” he exclaimed, “I realized, man, you can write songs that really do make a difference.” Suddenly Townes devoted himself to the idealistic mission of saving the world with a song.
He toured extensively and in 1994 released No Deeper Blue, his first studio album for seven years. He recorded it in Ireland with Irish musicians and sang every song, but only played guitar on one. A year and a half later he died unexpectedly, on New Year’s day, 1997, fourty-four years after Hank Williams.
He left behind a devoted following. Eric Anderson says “Townes was arguably the most important southern song-poet since Hank He had a lot of sympathy for the human condition. He wasnt interested in tryin to get rich or make money. He just wanted to play.
Reccomended listening: Live at the Old Quarter, Poncho and Lefty