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Townes Van Zandt Lived a Troubled Life

I wrote a story about JIMMY BUFFETT the other day, and it brought back a memory that I didn't include in the story: The first thing Jimmy Buffett said to me when I picked him up was, "Do you know where I can find TOWNES VAN ZANDT?" I told him that I had no idea, because Townes, a tortured singer/songwriter, often had no real address and would hang in Dive Bars while staying in Fleabag Hotels and sometimes cabins in the Woods.

 

Townes suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder when he was a kid in the 40's and 50's, when such a thing was considered just bad behavior, and his parents opted for him to have Insulin Shock Therapy, a now discredited treatment that resulted in erasing most of his long-term memory. For the rest of his short life he was involved in drug-abuse and alcoholism, but still wrote Sometimes Sad, but Touching Songs. That's why Buffett wanted to meet him, Jimmy was writing a lot (His mentor was the late, Jim Croce) and Townes songs were admired by other song/writers; including Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard who had a #1 record with Van Zandt's Epic Musical Poem, "Pancho and Lefty."


The tortured artist is a bit of a cliche', but Townes was the real deal, if you could Drink it, Smoke it or Shoot it, he'd do it to the pain of those around him. One of my former artists, Don Williams, teamed up with Emmylou Harris, to record Towne's signature song, "IF I NEEDED YOU," scoring a #3 on the C&W Chart, and along with Pancho & Lefty got him enough recognition and income to hang on until on the morning of January 1st, 1997, Townes Van Zandt's heart just stopped, and he was gone at 52 years of age. It's hard to really explain his influence on so many other great song/writers and singers, STEVE EARLE called him a "Cult Figure," on a level with Bob Dylan who was one of his fans.

 

In 2015 Townes Van Zandt was inducted into The Austin City Limits Hall of Fame along with, Asleep at the Wheel, Loretta Lynn, Guy Clark and Flaco Jimenez, heavy company in the Lone Star State, but he was real Texan, there's even a County named after his family who were early settlers back in the day. Speaking of Austin City Limits, Scott found this clip of Townes doing "If I Needed You," with excellent sound on an early show. Note his finger picking, Dylan asked Townes to show him how to do that. @therealdonrocks

 

A version of this post originally appeared on The Don Rocks Facebook page. For more stories like these every day, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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