Townes Van Zandt. A name that is ingrained in most musicians minds as a genius, but a name that was given to a man that died penniless and vastly unknown to the general music fan. In fact, I (along with most other people) went most my adult life thinking that Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard wrote “Pancho & Lefty” instead of Townes.
After listening to a lot of Townes recently it’s become very clear that he didn’t write songs within any certain genre of music. I guess if I had to classify it or explain it to somebody, I would say country or folk would be close, but I don’t think those “boxes” actually do it any justice. His music is not that sugar coated, have a good time, let’s party kind of music, but rather it’s something that you really have to listen to and think about. Which, as shameful as it seems, is probably why he never took off as a popular musician.
Townes died in 1997, but less than 10 years later I began being influenced by his music and only vaguely knew it at the time. I had always known the name “Townes Van Zandt”, but wasn’t saavy enough to pull it out of a set list when i heard it. Then artist after artist, that I respect, started adding a Townes song to their set and strangely enough, some of those songs were my favorite ones! As I began to listen more and more I went out and picked up the originals that Townes sang and then that bled over into being a true fan of Townes to the point that when I hear one of his songs I just about have to stop everything that I’m doing and listen intently.
So thank you to all the musicians that have played a Townes song and I never knew it. Thank you to musicians like Jason Eady, Ryan Bingham, Pat Green, The Band of Heathens and Robert Earle Keen that were never afraid to drop a Townes song in a set where they were trying to prove their own songwriting and performance. Especially during times when it’s hip to throw a Cash or Waylon song in for the crowd.
It’s been 12 years since the death of Townes Van Zandt and it seems like his name is finally becoming more common place in the circles I run in. When you get time or the inclination… go check out his music, check out Steve Earle’s latest album titled Townes or go check out the documentary Be Here to Love Me. It uncovers alot of who Townes is (for instance he was given shock therapy as a child that affected his memory his whole life) and I’d actually like to get a group together at some point to watch it, if anyone is interested. I’ll leave you with a song that I’ve been listening to this week. Pat Green originally covered it and put it on his album back when only about 100 people probably knew the name Pat Green, let alone knew that he was covering a song by Townes Van Zandt called “Snowing on Raton”.